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Avenue A residents want ditch cleaned

More residents have raised complaints against the city forrefusing to clean potentially hazardous drainage ditches near theirproperty.

Residents of Avenue A are upset with the city for refusing toclean a drainage ditch behind their homes that parallels Highway 51and stretches from Halbert Heights Road to Zetus Road.

The ditch has become seriously overgrown and a haven for snakes,they contend.

The residents, who live in a flood plain, are concerned thatwhen the rainy season starts later this year the ditch may not beable to channel enough water because of the plant growth. Adding tothose concerns is construction on Highway 51 that will increase theflow to the ditch and provide less soil to soak up the rain.

“What concerns me is the flooding. If it grows up in there, itwon’t help with flooding,” said Avenue A resident Dwayne Dunn.”When it rains hard that ditch fills all the way up. And it doesn’ttake long.”

Teresa Walls, another resident of Avenue A, agreed.

“It hasn’t flooded yet, but if we got as much rain now as we didlast year, it has grown up so much it certainly would,” shesaid.

The residents are confused, they said, because the city hasalways cut the ditch in the past.

Lois Lawrence, who has lived at her house for more than 21years, said she didn’t understand why they stopped.

“They usually keep this clean,” she said. “I don’t know what’shappened the past few years.”

The city quit cutting and cleaning the ditch last year, Wallssaid. They made one cutting in the spring of last year and haven’treturned. It was usually cut twice a year.

“Up until last year they kept it really nice and water flowedwell,” Walls said. “Last year, they cut only the sides. There arebushes 15-to-20-foot tall in it now.”

Although the flooding concern is serious, Walls said the snakesthat have moved into the ditch are more threatening to herdaughter, Felicity Hoggatt, 12. Neighbors often have to killcottonmouths and other snakes found on porches or in carports.

“Of course I’m concerned about her safety. I’m concerned for me,too,” she said.

She has had several close encounters with the reptiles, Wallssaid, and has lost two of her daughter’s pets to them.

“I’ve had to get my dog away from them before they bit him,” shesaid. “It doesn’t happen every day, but it’s not rare either.”

Dunn agreed the snakes were also a concern.

“I’ve killed a few in the yard, and I’ve seen some more in theditch,” he said.

Walls said she has attempted to contact the city about the ditchbut has been unsuccessful.

Dunn said he understood the reticence of the aldermen becausesome other residents may not appreciate the service.

“Some property owners do give them a hard time about getting upin there,” he said, “but most of us want it done.”

The Halbert Heights Road ditch situation surfaced in a meetingof the Board of Aldermen Tuesday when Ward 4 Alderman BobMassengill questioned its ownership.

Mayor Bill Godbold said it was the city’s “by prescription,” alegal term that essentially means when the public benefits from theuse of a piece of property it becomes the city’s to care for. Healso added he knew that one side of the ditch was the city’sbecause they had put a sewer line there.

Walls has an open and broken manhole between her backyard andthe ditch.

During Tuesday’s meeting, Godbold even supported the residents’claims of city maintenance on the ditch.

“We’ve been doing it for years,” he said.

The mayor suggested that city crews clean the ditch on aweekend.

Jimmy Griffin, director of the street and maintenancedepartment, said some of his equipment can’t reach inside the ditchto do the job.

“You’re going to have to get some manpower down there to do somekaiser blade work,” he said.

Ward 2 Alderman Terry Bates raised the concern of setting aprecedent in cleaning that ditch when others are also in bad shape.He urged caution in cleaning some ditches and not others.

“All our ditches in Brookhaven look bad,” he said.

Board Attorney Joe Fernald said it was the same type ofsituation that the aldermen were seeking clarification on in othermatters, citing earlier complaints from residents about mosquitocontrol on private property and other issues recently plaguing theboard.

Residents in the Storm Avenue area complained to the board inJuly about a drainage ditch in that area where mosquitoes werebreeding. They requested the board spray for the mosquitoes, butthe ditch is located on private property and alderman balkedbecause of private property laws.

The board has since softened its stance, based on an AttorneyGeneral’s Office opinion, but wants clarification on the opinionbefore committing to any project.

The recent AG’s opinion requested by the board reaffirms a 1989opinion giving cities discretionary power to spray for mosquitoeson private streets and property. It suggests a town hearing is notnecessary for spraying.

However, the opinion also addresses a hearing process needed ifthe city wants to take more extensive mosquito control measures,such as cleaning debris or draining areas of standing water.

In those cases, the board must hold a hearing to declare an areaa nuisance or menace to public health and safety. The hearing givesthe property owner notice and a chance to be heard.

Following the hearing and a health hazard ruling, the city maygo on the private property to address the mosquito-relatedsituation. The property owner is then charged for the city’sservices.

“You can have a hearing on each ditch,” Fernald said. “You canvote on who you want to help and who you don’t want to help.”

The board agreed to wait on further clarification of the AG’sopinion.

Godbold suggested floating a bond issue to clean all the ditchesin the city, but got no response from the board.

The discussion ended with the decision to contact City EngineerCarl Ray Furr to see if he could locate any grants or other fundsto assist with ditch-cleaning projects.

Editor’s note: News Editor Matthew Coleman contributed tothis report.