Landowner blocks storm sewer
By Brian M. Cuaron
April 21, 2011 at 10:04 p.m.
Updated April 21, 2011 at 11:22 p.m.
To readletters from Keith Redburn and his attorney, go to www.victoriaadvocate.com and click on this story.
Take a tour of Keith Redburn's property and you're as likely to hear about needles and diapers as you are about his many oak trees.
"Look at that," said Redburn sarcastically, "It's a syringe. You want to get over there and figure out what kind of juice is in that?"
Redburn is referring to a storm sewer that runs through his property in the 900 block of Stayton Avenue. It resembles a large, open ditch that becomes littered with diapers, beer cans and feminine hygiene products.
The soil hovering over the nearly 14-foot deep sewer drain has eroded so that a chain-link fence partially dangles over. Redburn fears that his trees near the sewer line are also in danger of coming down, saying he has already lost seven or eight trees.
Redburn bought the property in 2004 and made it his home in 2005. He said that the debris and soil erosion are the result of water that goes through the storm sewer when it rains.
When that happens, Redburn said he has to pay someone to clean the sewer, about a seven-hour job, otherwise the rotting trash will stink and attract flies.
"I've been going round and round with the city for years to maintain the toilet they got going on my property," Redburn said.
Redburn showed the Advocate a letter dated Aug. 21, 2006 that he said he sent to the city telling them of the problem. The letter called the storm sewer an eyesore and health hazard that attracts animals like bobcats foxes, rattlesnakes and water moccasins.
A letter dated March 28, 2008 from then-City Attorney David Smith said the storm sewer "is a natural, not man-made waterway." As a result, Smith wrote that the city must get a federal permit before it can clear trees and brush in and along the sewer on Redburn's property.
Things took a new turn on March 28 when Redburn had five tons of concrete laid in the mouth of the sewer that has a 66-inch diameter opening, the height of an adult.
In a letter to the city, Redburn suggested that the city reroute the water flow so it doesn't flood or damage lower lying properties.
"I'm not trying to stir anybody up. I'm just trying to get this fixed," he said.
O.C. Garza, information director for Victoria, said it's illegal to put anything in a storm sewer. He said that storm sewers are the city's route for rainwater to drain into the Guadalupe River.
Garza said that with the storm sewer being blocked, it's possible that when it rains the water could back up and damage people's homes, including Redburn's.
Many Victoria residents have storm sewers running through their property and are required to maintain them, Garza said.
"Property owners, they typically, like most good citizens, go out there and clean out their drainage systems, just like people clean their curbs," Garza said.
For his part, Redburn said there's a hole in the pipe leading to his property that allows for some water to go through. He added that the city should have been proactive in dealing with this problem before it got to this point.
Redburn has filed an injunction to keep city officials from coming onto his property and taking down his wall. He and his attorney Norman Jones, of Victoria, say the city has filed a counter lawsuit.
City Attorney Thomas Gwosdz declined to comment.
Big fines can accumulate daily for someone breaking a storm sewer ordinance, Garza said. He added that Gwosdz wants photographs each day of the concrete wall that Redburn has erected in front of the sewer.
According to a court document, Redburn's request for an injunction against City Manager Charmelle Garrett is set for Monday.
Based on other cases, Jones wrote in a letter that Redburn has the legal right to block the water from entering his property.
"It's done and I have to stand by my guns," Redburn said. "I have a clear conscious of trying to do everything I could to avoid this."