Fort Mill homeowner frustrated by stormwater impasse

jmarks@fortmilltimes.comMay 13, 2014 

Santiago Lanza stands near the pipe he says floods his and his neighbors’ yards each time there’s a heavy rain.

JOHN MARKS — jmarks@fortmilltimes.com

— As Fort Mill considers a new stormwater utility, there’s at least one local site that could prove why it’s needed.

Steele Meadows resident Santiago Lanza says his property keeps washing out with each heavy rain.

But keeping runoff out of his yard might mean destroying a company nearby, and pushing water toward Lanza’s home is, according to that company, exactly what permits and regulations allow.

“We are very open to being nice neighbors,” said Bernard Schnacke, president of Frieling, a food service supply manufacturer. “We did everything the right way.”

The home and commercial site sit outside town limits but highlight an issue Fort Mill planners hope to tackle as growth and state regulation dictate increased stormwater planning.

Last week, the Fort Mill Town Council heard from the state stormwater program manager as a prelude to deciding whether or not to create a new stormwater utility.

Lanza’s concern is a county stormwater issue, one the homeowner says isn’t getting resolution despite his best attempts.

A berm separates Lanza’s home from the Frieling property. Years ago, the berm and four pipes through it came in as conditions for what were then new residences.

Lanza moved to Fort Mill Township in 2008 and until recently hasn’t had runoff problems. Frieling bought its property in November.

“This building was here before there was anything in the neighborhood,” Schnacke said. “When the building was constructed, everything was fine.”

At a point when neither Frieling nor Lanza owned the properties they do now, a homeowner filled in one of those four pipes.

“The effect was, on the other side, we would suddenly have a big lake,” Schnacke said, “and it was washing out the foundation.”

When Frieling bought the property, a back wall was separating from the foundation, and numerous problems arose due to standing water. “We had, basically, a mote around the building,” Schnacke said.

While digging to find the cause, the company and its engineers uncovered the blocked pipe. The company, Schnacke said, had every permit and cause to unblock it.

He visited with neighbors, including Lanza, to explain the situation prior to months of heavy rain after the property purchase.

For Lanza, the notice wasn’t much use. “He knew we were going to flood,” Lanza said.

Until the weekend of May 10, recent weeks hadn’t brought much rain. Lanza and a neighbor, who has the pipe on his property, paid for a fix that channels water between their properties, over a sidewalk and into the nearest gutter. They spent about $1,000.

Lanza, however, wants more done.

“Right now it’s OK because of what we did, not them,” he said. “Right now it’s fine, but this is going to wash out, and in two or three years we’ll have this problem again.”

He’s tried contacting the company, county, his homeowners association – all with no resolution.

“Nobody wants to claim ownership,” Lanza said. “But if I do something to the pipe, I’m going to jail.”

Stormwater issues arrive with construction, and Fort Mill is seeing its share of construction lately. Several indicators show the town is at or close to pre-recession numbers for new homes and other permitted projects.

The growth is part of the reason town staff wants a new stormwater utility.

The town’s decision on a new utility would align it with needed updates to its stormwater program. A fee would fund the separate stormwater department, paid for until now through the general fund.

“Implementing a stormwater program will require a source of funding,” said Town Manager Dennis Pieper. “Annual fees to property owners will be determined.”

Paul Mitchell, town engineering director, couldn’t comment on the Steele Meadows situation since it falls outside town limits. He did tell the council at the first reading for the new stormwater utility that a fee hadn’t been set but would be by summer.

Retention-pond inspection, maintenance for stormwater structures and assessment plans all would be part of the larger scope job of the utility, Mitchell said.

John Marks •  803-831-8166

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