Belfast woman fights city over drainage

Posted May 14, 2012, at 6:41 p.m.
Last modified May 14, 2012, at 8:17 p.m.
Laurie Allen gestures to the stream that runs behind her house on Seaview Terrace in Belfast on Thursday, May 10, 2012. She believes the city's decisions about stormwater management have contributed to making the stream larger and more damaging to her property.
Laurie Allen gestures to the stream that runs behind her house on Seaview Terrace in Belfast on Thursday, May 10, 2012. She believes the city's decisions about stormwater management have contributed to making the stream larger and more damaging to her property.

BELFAST, Maine — A woman whose backyard is bounded by a stream she claims the city has created and increased in size remains locked in conflict with city hall.

Laurie Allen of Seaview Terrace, a street that intersects Northport Avenue near Waldo County General Hospital, can be seen on some weekends carrying placards through the downtown that read “Belfast Bullies.” She maintains a blog on the issue and is a frequent speaker at City Council meetings, claiming the council is conspiring against her as she fights to keep her home dry and her backyard intact.

City officials maintain that the water flow, seen especially during rainy spells such as the area has experienced in the last few weeks, is part of the natural and managed drainage. Much of the city is built on a hill that pitches east to Penobscot Bay.

For Allen, the saga began last year. In June 2010, she purchased the house after a divorce, moving to Belfast from New Jersey. Last spring the stream behind her split-level ranch house filled.

“That was when it came gushing over the banks,” she said last week.

Except as far as Allen is concerned, it’s not a stream. The trench through which the water flows along her backyard was created when the flow was diverted, Allen said, when the Seaview Terrace subdivision was built in 1965. The natural drainage probably followed a course to the south of its current course, she said.

This is a point on which city officials and Allen agree. City Planner Wayne Marshall said aerial photos of the city from 1939 and 1957 show the stream, though it is likely that it was to the south of its current course.

But the city maintains that it has no responsibility to fix the problem. The subdivision, built as it was under the laws of the day, was legal and approved.

On Thursday, May 10, after a couple of days of heavy rain, Allen showed where the stream flowed, noting especially how the bank closest to her house had begun eroding. Her property line lies on the opposite bank of the stream, she said, pointing to a survey stake.

“I probably lost 4 to 5 feet of property,” she said.

Allen asserts that water has plagued the neighborhood for years, in both backyards and on the street side. Marshall confirms that in 1987, at the request of residents, the city engineer completed a report that examined the problem. It concluded the city was not on the hook for any fix.

Allen also notes that in subsequent years, major new building developments have added to runoff. They include the Captain Albert Stevens School, a townhouse development on Cedar Street, the Volunteers of America senior housing complex on Congress Street, a new hospital complex on the west side of Northport Avenue, and expansions of the Tall Pines nursing home and Mid-Coast Mental Health facility, both adjacent to Seaview Terrace.

At the top of Seaview Terrace is a culvert, about 40 inches in diameter, which feeds the trench that flows past Allen’s house. A gravel bank prevents water from flowing farther south and instead diverts it east toward the bay. Allen wants that gravel bank removed.

“I’ve asked for the full history of Seaview Terrace and the flooding,” Allen said. She said she has been stonewalled by city officials, a charge Marshall denies.

Allen said she worked behind the scenes to help city officials find a practical solution to the problem before going public with her complaints, beginning at a council meeting in November.

Some of Allen’s neighbors have grown tired of her activism, though. Bud Hand spoke at a recent council meeting asking the city to dissuade Allen from posting signs on her property complaining about her water problem.

The city’s position, said Marshall, is: “That is an active stream behind her property and it is part of a major drainage basin” for the area. When each new development in the area was built, he said, measures were taken to meet state and local regulations to hold back water from major storms.

And finally, Marshall said, the city can’t fix problems on private property.

Allen believes a fix to the water woes would cost her at least $45,000.

“If you’re not getting services from your city, where do you turn?” she asked.

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