Inquirer: City says business owner responsible for drain, sinkhole

mowen@ledger-enquirer.comMarch 17, 2013 

We have learned a lesson this week at Inquirer Central. That being, if you've purchased property that has a storm-water pipe running beneath it, you are responsible not only for its repair, but for any damages it causes, should something go wrong. Unless.

Now, if the city installed the drain or has accepted some degree of responsibility by performing maintenance or repair on it, it's the city's problem.

Otherwise, get out your checkbook.

That's the lesson we learned from Bob Weathers, owner of Weathers Storage on Ford Drive just off St. Marys Road. Something has obviously gone wrong with a drain pipe running underneath the storage facility. About 20 or so feet from where a storm drain takes in water off of Ford, a portion of the asphalt on Weathers' property is collapsing into a hole maybe five or six feet across.

The area has been cordoned off, crime-scene style, because the sinkhole certainly presents a hazard. It could probably swallow a Smart Car, if driven by a dumb person.

Assuming that since the drain is on the street, which the city owns, and that it is performing the public service of draining said street, Weathers thought the city should handle the problem. So he called them.

The city sent out engineers to investigate and to check city construction and maintenance records. Turns out, the city did not install the drain, nor has it ever maintained it, so it's Weathers' problem, he was told.

Not satisfied, Weathers' partner and brother, William Weathers, wrote a strong letter to Mayor Teresa Tomlinson and City Attorney Clifton Fay. The letter, Weathers wrote, "serves as our Ante Litem notice for damage." ("Ante Litem" is Latin for "I'm fixing to sue," I think.)

Heather Garrett, an attorney for Page Scrantom, etc., responded on the city's behalf, saying the city is not responsible.

"Our records also indicate that Columbus has never undertaken any repairs to the pipe on this property," she wrote. "Therefore, Columbus is not responsible for the pipe's current condition. Columbus will not use public funds to make any repairs to the pipe and Columbus will not be liable for any future damages caused by the functioning of the pipe."

But she wasn't through. For good measure, she added:

"Please be advised that Columbus is self-insured and does not retain insurance coverage. If you choose to institute legal action it will be vigorously defended and all available remedies, including the imposition of attorneys' fees, will be sought against your client."

That's not Latin. That's Lawyer, for "bring it."

In William Weather's original letter, he said if the city doesn't remedy the situation, they have no choice but to just fill in the hole, which would eliminate the drain altogether.

Not a good idea, said Director of Engineering Donna Newman. That could lead to flooding in the area, for which Weathers could be held legally and financially responsible, she said.

I spoke to Bob Weathers late Friday and told him that the city is holding firm that it doesn't own the drain.

"Well, they sure are using it," he said.

Seen something that needs attention? Contact me at mowen@ledger-enquirer.com or 706-571-8570.

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