By Deborah Goonan, Independent American Communities
One reason local governments establish HOAs: to take care of on site storm water management.
In many parts of the country, nearly every new housing development constructed in the past 30-40 years has required the establishment of a homeowners association to maintain storm water ponds, channels, and water diversion infrastructure within the community’s boundaries.
The problem with putting each individual residential community in charge of their own storm water drainage is that, more often than not, maintenance is sporadic or nonexistent. HOAs tend to neglect upkeep of storm water systems because volunteer board members lack the knowledge and experience to monitor performance, identify potential problems, and prevent flooding or watershed contamination.
State agencies may occasionally inspect ponds, lakes, and dams, and report any problems or recommended course of action to HOAs. But several years can go by without any inspection whatsoever.
Another problem with assigning maintenance responsibilities to the residents of each neighborhood is that, quite often, the cost burden is unfairly allocated. For example, some of an uphill neighborhood’s storm water will flow to a downhill neighborhood’s streets and catch basins. The downhill neighborhood’s basins and ponds need to be larger or more numerous to accommodate additional water, making construction and ongoing maintenance of their storm water system more expensive than the uphill community. At the same time, homes on the top of the hill tend to be larger and more expensive, while homes in the valley might be relatively small and less valuable. The result: homeowners with limited financial resources tend to have a larger burden for storm water management.
The older the community, the more likely there is deferred maintenance of storm water drainage basins and ponds. And even when the HOA is alerted to a problem by an agency or its residents, there may not be enough money in reserves to accomplish expensive maintenance and remediation. The price tag for fixing storm water problems can be significant, and beyond the reach of some communities.
One primary concern with poor maintenance of storm water ponds is increased risk of flooding. Another common problem is the build up of silt and environmental contamination. In fact, many storm water basins – especially silt basins – need to be dredged out every 7-10 years. (Dredging is a process of removing sludge and accumulated contaminants from a pond or basin, and disposing of contaminated materials appropriately.)
A small HOA might have to tend to a single pond or a drainage basin. Larger communities often contain dozens of retention ponds and interconnecting drainage pipes.
But no matter how simple or complex the system may be, it is common for HOAs to be burdened with the financial liability for maintaining and repairing storm water structures, with the intent that the local municipality or County will not have to bear that expense.
In reality, the local government may eventually end up paying for repairs and remediation after decades of deferred maintenance.
Members of The Country Place HOA are in the process of working with the City of Carrollton to help them decide what to do with their contaminated silt basin – and to help pay for the solution. Country Place was established in 1971, and according to their website, “consists of 742 homes (townhouses, duplexes, and single family residences).”
It turns out it is more economical to fill in the basin than to dredge and remove sludge every 10 years, so the boards of two HOAs in the subdivision have decided that the troublesome, smelly water view must be eliminated altogether. That worries some homeowners who live adjacent to the basin, not only because of the loss of their view, but also because filling in the basin will simply cover up contaminated silt. City officials have reportedly assured residents that contaminant levels are low, and do not present a health threat.
Still, a group of homeowners is suing Country Place HOA because the board did not organize a vote of all association members to participate in the decision of whether to dredge or fill in the basin. Attorneys for the HOAs insist that the boards have no duty to obtain a membership vote on a maintenance issue, particularly one involving the City.
So far, Carrollton City Council has not committed any specific financial contribution to the project, although homeowners were told it would be included in the 2017-2018 budget.
Carrollton residents seek vote on infill of contaminated silt basin