Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Payback Is Coming

The village where I live has a unique way of handling issues like flooding and power outages. When they make mistakes, we get to pay for them. 
          Thirty years ago when I moved here, I noticed, along with everyone else in the neighborhood, that our street flooded whenever there was an inch of rain. After the 100-year flood of 1982, followed by another 100-year flood in 1987 [obviously Mother Nature sucks at math], the village had an epiphany. What you need are bigger storm sewers, they said. Why thank you, we said. But there was a catch. Along with the fancy new pipes, they said, you'll also want the matching new curbs to accommodate the metal grates you'll need to drain the water into the storm sewers and take it away. And it just so happens we're having a sale. In the end, the village paid for the sewers. And the neighborhood forked out a thousand dollars per household for the metal grates and the fancy new curbs that will surely enhance the value of all our homes blah blah blah. 
           Fifteen years later, the street still floods after an inch of rain. In fact, over the weekend when we had five inches fall in just two hours, the street flooded up and over the parkway, past the sidewalk, through the yard, and stopped just six feet from my house. 
           But the good news is that once the rain has stopped, the flood water drains much faster. So the new pipes suck when it comes to preventing the flooding, but they're great for drainage. The mistake they made? The grates. They aren't big enough to handle the load when there's a downpour. The flood water turns into a 500 pound gorilla trying to squeeze into an eight pound bag. Naturally the village won't pony up the money to make the grates bigger. Or admit they made a mistake. 
           The next mistake the village made was during the early years of the tear-down frenzy. Two new houses went up on our block and the grade elevation for each house was notably higher than the rest of surrounding homes. Big mistake. After the first one-inch rain, the other eight backyards were way under water. And the water sat there for weeks and weeks. My backyard had its own fish pond for more than a month. Another neighbor lost her entire lawn. 
           To voice their concern, the neighborhood had a meeting with the storm commission, which declared that this event was just a fluke and it was probably caused by excess vegetation, which was our fault. I am not kidding. 
           However! For the low, low price of $1500 per household, they could have the problem fixed. No, we said. You allowed the builders to raise the grade. This time we're not paying for your mistake. But, they claimed, we can't fix our mistakes unless you pay for them. Nope. Yep. Nope. Yep. Until the woman whose lawn had been destroyed showed up for a meeting carrying her brand new baby and called them names that cannot be printed in a family friendly blog -- for this entry at least. [See George Carlin.] Somehow the village found a way to save face and hooked up a framitz to the squiggly thing and ta-da, the water was gone!!  
           But municipalities are not like elephants. They do not have long memories. In fact, it could be argued they don't have memories at all. Recently, the village totally forgot about the mess they caused by raising the grade a decade ago and allowed three more new houses on the other side of the block to do virtually the same thing. Only worse. These houses were not only on higher ground, which is like grade elevation on steroids, but these McMansions with their three-car garages, industrial-sized driveways, and immense patios have covered over 50% of the properties with concrete. A perfect combination for runoff of biblical proportions.  
           Since construction finished on these homes, our backyards have never seen so much water. Not only is there runoff, but the pipes from their sump pumps are adding to the deluge. The problem is that there's only one place for the water to go after our yards get filled up. Into the house. Twice, water has poured through the window wells into the basements. Twice, it has overwhelmed the sump pumps whose principle job is to keep the ground water under control. Twice, it has flooded out the furnaces and knocked out the hot water heaters. 
           Very big mistake. But naturally, the village wants us to pay to fix the problem -- by hiring people to build berms and swales, re-routing our gutters and sumps, putting in fancy drains from the backyard to the front, even installing new window wells, and on and on and on. The people whose houses have caused the problem don't have to do anything. And, to this point, the people at the village who keep making these mistakes think they don't have anything to worry about either. 
           But Mrs. Linklater thinks that with a little effort, we may soon have another episode of Jobs in Jeopardy. 
           Is this a great country or what?

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