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Eagle Point OKs drainage plan

New law allows city crews to maintain ' for a fee ' drainage ditches if property owners fail to do so

EAGLE POINT ' City Council members have granted final approval for an ordinance allowing the city onto private property to maintain drainage ditches in the event property owners fail to do so.

The new law, City Administrator David Hussell said, is a first step in a much needed long-range plan for managing stormwater runoff and preventing flooding that has plagued the city for decades.

Effective immediately, property owners who fail to keep ditches clean will be forced to pay city crews to complete the work.

The council granted initial emergency approval of the ordinance Jan. 10, before waters had fully receded from the second of two December storms that brought water levels up to citizens' front doors and contributed to flooding near City Hall.

This legislation gives the city the ability to go in and correct any maintenance problem in the ditch if the property owner doesn't do it, explained Hussell.

— Since the majority of the ditch system is not city-owned, it's on private land, we had to have a mechanism to ensure that the existing system can be as efficient as it can be. And the cost of doing that would be billed to the homeowner; and if they did not pay the bill; we would lien their property.

The ordinance, passed Tuesday, is the second attempt in a decade to force compliance in property owners along private ditches such as one along Buchanan Avenue.

Dense, overgrown vegetation and trash, Hussell said, prevent the ditches from draining storm water quickly.

The city sent letters some eight years ago, ordering property owners to keep ditches clear; but compliance has been piecemeal.

Laurel Street homeowner Barry Grigsby, who attended the last two council meetings on the topic, said he was in favor of the ditches being kept clean, but was bothered by the fact the city could attach a lien to private property for failing to maintain a drainage system that benefits the entire city.

An added problem, Grigsby said, is that excessive clearing of the ditches increase erosion.

Some of us have lost 10 feet of property, he noted. We do clean the ditch, but the problem is we have erosion if we clean it, so we're going to lose more property unless something is done long-term. Secondly, who's going to be the judge and jury to say whether it's clean enough? ... It should be something like maybe a citation, but I feel like they went about it wrong.

Hussell said the city hopes to find a better solution eventually.

The first step was to find a way to deal with the maintenance problems we've had over the years. The bottom line is that we're just trying to keep these ditches open, he said. The next step after this would be where the city would have to go to all of the property owners that control these ditches and find a way to be able to get legal rights to create a maintenance easement so that we could maintain them — and then come up with (money) to do so.

He added that the last thing the city wants is to have city crews do the work and impose liens.

In all honesty we don't want to go onto their property and clean out these ditches, he said. We'd much prefer they just go out and hack down the weeds themselves.

Grigsby said he and several neighbors had begun discussions with at least one city official regarding citizen involvement to address long-range plans for managing city flooding.

The city does seem like they wanna work with us even though they passed this particular ordinance that none of us are too happy about, Grigsby said.

Buffy Pollock is a freelance writer living in Medford. E-mail her at buffypollock@juno.com.