By Deborah Goonan, Independent American Communities
It’s been 15 – 20 years since the construction boom of the early 21st century. And now that thousands of planned communities are reaching maturity, it’s time for homeowners associations to dredge retention ponds, clean out stormwater detention basins, and unclog drain pipes.
Homeowners and residents complain about unattractive, foul-smelling, stormwater ponds, some of which periodically overflow and flood nearby property.
But many HOA boards are discovering that stormwater facility maintenance is a messy job requiring heavy equipment, and tens of thousands of dollars to restore free-flowing stormwater that meets new federal environmental quality standards.
That’s why many homeowners associations are putting pressure on municipal governments to step in and fix their problems with bad drainage, repeated flooding, filthy pond water, and unwanted wildlife.
All of these problems were created by local governments, when they chose to allow residential developers to build on or near wetlands, often installing retention ponds as a relatively quick and easy method of controlling water flow.
Cities cost-shifting stormwater control to HOAs
Some say that local government was irresponsible when it took a hands-off, “it’s not our problem” approach.
As thousands of new communities were built, some local governments inspected stormwater facilities. Some did not. There wasn’t much motivation for thorough inspections, because most of the ponds and drainage infrastructure were eventually transferred to HOAs for future maintenance.
Post-construction city or county inspections are spotty, at best. But even when a city recommends specific maintenance services to an HOA, it’s unlikely that the homeowners have set aside enough money to take on expensive repairs.
Most of the time, the HOA does the bare minimum level of maintenance. All too often, and HOA does nothing at all.
In all fairness, volunteer homeowner-led HOA boards know little to nothing about stormwater management and flood control. In this case, however, ignorance is definitely not bliss.
Three recent cases illustrate the pitfalls of delegating maintenance of stormwater facilities, such as retention ponds, to HOAs.
Tulsa Neighborhood Association, City both refuse to maintain retention pond
Jim Seaman and his wife want to sell their home in the upscale, gated Guier Woods subdivision, and move to assisted living. Seaman is 78 years old, a retired naval officer and CPA, and he uses a wheelchair.
But the couple cannot sell their home. It sits next to a retention pond with a history of flooding. Seaman tells KJRH that the pond is filled with debris that washes down from city streets, clogging the drain that’s supposed to discharge stormwater to a downstream creek.
The debris blocks a drainage gate and also reduces the volume of water that the pond can hold. As a result, the pond overflows during heavy or sustained rain.
A 2017 engineer’s report completed for a property owner in Tulsa concludes that the storm sewers serving Guier Woods are “undersized,” which apparently leads to repetitive flooding of several properties, as reported by KJRH.
According to the report, several Guier Woods back yards and a few garages have flooded during significant rain events.
Seaman says that, when he and his wife moved into their house, the HOA agreed to keep the pond clean and free of debris. Now that new board members have been elected, the HOA refuses to maintain the pond.
So far, the City has not agreed to dredge the pond and remove debris that has washed into the pond from upstream city streets.
And it’s unclear what, if anything, will be done about the undersized storm drains in Guier Woods.
Couple desperate after city’s stormwater clogs retention pond
Lisa Jones, 2 Works for You (KJRH) | Posted: 7:09 PM, May 06, 2019
Updated: 8:24 PM, May 06, 2019
HOA can’t maintain its pond, so their neighbors have to deal with thousands of frogs
Lori and Bill Moore, and Mike and Lori Whelan deal with the fallout from a poorly maintained stormwater retention pond near their homes.
The pond was built on Five Mile Prairie, near Spokane, Washington, in 2004, as part of a new development. The Panorama Place Homeowners Association is supposed to maintain the pond, plus all water, sewer, and drainage facilities for their planned community.
The City does not inspect new construction of stormwater facilities on private property, as is done by several other cities in Washington state. The developer of Panorama Place apparently added the pond because it was easier and cheaper than installing an underground drainage system in the heavy clay soil of the prairie.
The president of Panorama Place HOA, Attorney David Shotwell, tells the Spokesman-Review that the City has dumped an unreasonable burden on the Association. Shotwell said the HOA barely has enough money to maintain their water service, fire hydrants and street lights.
So, each spring, the retention pond becomes a breeding ground for mosquitos and thousands of frogs, as the creatures invade the homes of property owners who aren’t even part of the Panorama Place.
Not surprisingly, the Moores also say that recent development on the prairie has raised the water table, forcing them to constantly run a sump pump, to keep their basement dry.
Plague of frogs: Five Mile property owners say stormwater pond is ruining their neighborhood
By Kip Hill, The Spokesman-Review
Tue., May 7, 2019, 5 a.m.
Penna. HOA wants Township to maintain its detention ponds
Township Council recently voted in 4 to 1 favor of taking over two detention ponds in Woodlands of Peters Township. The HOA had made the request, in light of new federal stormwater regulations.
The Clean Water Act requires ponds to be cleaned regularly, a task that the private association finds both daunting and expensive.
Peters Township currently inspects 30 privately owned detention and retention ponds, but does not maintain most of them.
The council recently approved a $43,000 contract to maintain 4 publicly owned detention ponds. Township officials also discussed the fact that improperly maintained drainage facilities in Woodlands would adversely affect owners of downstream properties.
Peters Township’s attorney also cautions the Council about the need for a policy that requires HOAs to bear the cost of repairing deficiencies in a pond, before the Township can dedicate it for public maintenance.
Translation: one way or another, homeowners in HOA-governed communities will probably have to pay to fix their community stormwater ponds, before the Township will accept them for future maintenance. ♦
Peters Township considers request to take over detention ponds
Harry Funk, The Almanac | Apr 9, 2019 Updated Apr 9, 2019