SNOW HILL — The Worcester County Commissioners re-affirmed their commitment this week to not get involved in a storm drain situation in Mystic Harbour that threatens to produce sinkholes on area properties.
Public Works Director John Tustin briefed the commission Tuesday on the results of an inspection of a “supposed collapsed storm drain” that is the source of sinkholes in Mystic Harbour yards. After revealing that blockages were noted during the inspection, Tustin made sure to explain that the county isn’t liable for fixing any of the problems.
“The pipe is not on county-owned land nor was it built by the county,” he said in his report. “Therefore, I believe it is not the county’s responsibility to maintain. The location of the pipe is obviously owned by Mr. Jack Burbage and helps drain portions of Maryland Route 611, which is a state highway.”
Tustin said that Worcester has no interest in the matter and should be wary about being dragged into the situation. Public Works Deputy Director John Ross felt likewise and informed the commission that if the county decided to fix the storm drain in this instance, a disturbing precedent could be set.
“It will be important to identify the owner of the pipe before we begin this work because once we begin making the repairs, it will most likely become ours forever,” Ross wrote in a memo.
According to Tustin, whoever does make the necessary repairs will be looking at a lot of man hours and the probable need of an outside contractor.
After hearing of the work required and confident that the county didn’t have a horse in the race as far as ownership of the pipe, the majority of commissioners agreed it would be best not to become involved.
“I don’t think we should get involved,” said Commissioner Louise Gulyas.
If Tustin’s report identified the storm drain as “obviously” being owned by Burbage, then Worcester isn’t liable, she reasoned.
“This is definitely a Mr. Burbage problem …” said Gulyas.
Gulyas recommended writing a letter to Burbage asking him to address the problem. Commissioner Judy Boggs advised against even drafting a letter as that is more immersion into the scenario than she is comfortable with.
“I think the solution has to come from the property owners and not the county,” she said.
Additionally, Boggs mentioned that she hopes once the commission makes a decision it sticks and the issue doesn’t arise again.
“We can’t continue to spend time on this if it’s not our problem,” she said.
Attorney Sonny Bloxom reminded the commission this isn’t the first time the Mystic Harbour storm drain problem has come before them.
“We told them [we’re not involved] before but they didn’t like our answer,” he said of property owners that have previously asked the commissioners to intercede.
Unlike his colleagues, Commission President Bud Church initially pushed for a small amount of involvement from the county. Church asked that the commission approve some further camera inspections at a different point in the pipe. However, Church dropped the motion when it became clear that his colleagues wanted to put the matter to rest.
Eventually, the commission voted 5-2, with Boggs and Commissioner Virgil Shockley opposed, in favor of a revised version of Gulyas’ motion, which will mean a letter will be sent to the State Highway Administration, Burbage, the Mystic Harbour Homeowners Association and property owners in the area urging cooperation between the parties.