Duxbury Select Board members were adamant about who is responsible for damage caused to town roads by residential culverts during their most recent meeting.
At a special meeting of the Duxbury Select Board on Monday, July 15, select board members and community members discussed driveway culvert issues. These issues spanned from clogged culverts or those that need replacing, as water and sediment buildup has led to town roads being damaged.
Select board members heard from residents who had problems with their roads due to neighbors who have private driveway culverts that overflow and cause road or property damage. The town employees are busy enough with existing work and are in the process of subcontracting ditching work in order to address other highway work in the town. Duxbury has received significant road damage during two heavy rainfall events this spring.
At the July 15 meeting, select board members discussed if and how residents should be notified of a culvert policy if a homeowner’s culvert is causing town damage. The town adopted a new policy for culverts last October but is now looking to make changes as some community members do not take the policy seriously.
"We're having some issues where people are getting water, silt and everything else from your neighbor that's not cleaning out the culvert. The town of Duxbury is responsible for any water that runs across the road, but we're not responsible for anyone's driveway culvert. However, if we're having an issue where we have such a flow of material going through, that's what creates the problem of having silt fill back in.” said board chair Bob Magee said.
The board discussed the 30-day limit that is required in the current policy to remedy problems caused by culverts that need attention. Board members added that in some cases 30 days may be too long, as damages can be inflicted on neighboring properties. On the other hand, 30 days may be needed as a homeowner may need to hire a contractor. Other members said that some individuals wait until the last minute or don't acknowledge the notification from the town to address their culvert.
AT A COST
Board member Dan Schillhammer proposed that if the resident does not fix the issue, the town will, at a cost.
Interim road foreman Kyle Guyette opposed this idea initially as he said that if the highway crew had to baby-sit residents’ personal culverts, they wouldn't get any major work done.
"If you do that, I think people are just going to say, 'Screw that. I'm not going to do it in 30 days and it's not my problem,’” he said.
Schillhammer countered that the town could charge for the labor at overtime rates.
"It holds accountability to them and to the town. ... It’s a threat that holds weight and in the worst-case scenario the town gets overtime and the boys get paid, we get money and we fix the roads. It’s preventative maintenance done right,” he said.
What happens in other towns on the issue of private culverts and public roads?
The town of Warren does not have a resident culvert policy. Town administrator Cindi Jones said, “Right now we do not have a policy, but with the new municipal road permit on line, something like this will probably happen in other towns. Stormwater is at the forefront of every town. The Friends of the Mad River have a program that helps landowners deal with their stormwater that runs off their properties into the town ditches. Normally, my foreman will tell me or show me of an existing issue that is eroding the town road or a driveway culvert that is too small or has rotted out. I send a letter to the homeowner telling them that their stormwater and culvert is plugged, undersized and that they need to fix the issue.”
Trevor Lashua, Waitsfield town administrator, said that while the town does not have a specific policy on private road and culverts impacting public roads and byways, he said that state statute speaks to people being prohibited from damaging public infrastructure with private infrastructure.
“Your culvert is your responsibility. Whether we’d seek to be reimbursed for damage to public roads would depend on the scope and scale of the damage,” Lashua said.
He said that 19 19 V.S.A 1111 (b) says, “It shall be unlawful to develop, construct, regrade, or resurface any driveway, entrance, or approach, or build a fence or building, or deposit material of any kind within, or to in any way affect the grade of a highway right-of-way, or obstruct a ditch, culvert, or drainage course that drains a highway, or fill or grade the land adjacent to a highway so as to divert the flow of water onto the highway right-of-way, without a written permit from … the legislative body, or designee of a municipality, in the case of town highways.”
“Towns can replace a driveway culvert and bill a landowner, if necessary, due to damage to public infrastructure. This presumes the landowner has not made the necessary fixes as advised,” Lashua added.
In Fayston, town administrator Patti Lewis said that the town does have the ability to bill property owners if their culverts and roads damage public property. She said that warning people that their culvert could potentially impact public property wasn’t always feasible because it’s hard to predict what will happen with heavy rainfall events.
Stuart Hallstrom, Fayston’s road foreman, said he doesn’t recall charging people for damage but said he understands that the town can do that. Hallstrom said that he knows of one instance where people received a curb cut permit that specified that any damage to town roads from their culvert would be their responsibility to fix because it was not possible to put a properly sized culvert in their driveway.
Moretown does not have a specific policy on private culverts and public roads.
The Duxbury Select Board will continue the discussion at its next meeting on Monday, July 22, at 6 p.m.