Resident cries foul over Paradise Valley flood water management

A view of the typical flooding that occurs on Calle Caballeros in Gary Estates.(Submitted photo)

A view of the typical flooding that occurs on Calle Caballeros in Gary Estates.(Submitted photo)

As the Town of Paradise Valley continues to actively evaluate effective stormwater management throughout local neighborhoods, one resident is raising concerns over enforcement measures.

The Town of Paradise Valley is looking to find solutions to stormwater drainage issues impacting residents throughout the municipality, and recently conducted its first “Community Conversation” to discuss those concerns.

Dallis Bjerkeseth contends the town failed to enforce its own ordinances concerning private development where established wash systems exist. That failure, over the last few decades, created significant flooding opportunities.

“All of these washes have been engineered. The fact that the wash is not maintained, the fact that they built a home in a wash, it literally floods half an acre,” he said in a March 31 phone interview.

Mr. Bjerkeseth lives in Gary Estates and says his neighborhood, in addition to his own subdivision, consists of homes coined the Mummy Mountain View Estates and La Vista in central Paradise Valley.

“I have lived here 23-plus years, and I have never once contacted the city about flooding. For whatever reason I never did, you just dealt with it  yourself. All of a sudden I got this letter from this guy at the town and he is mentioning that I have a mound of dirt that is effecting runoff,” he said.

Paradise Valley faces a unique geographical challenge mitigating and controlling floodwaters due to the topography of the area. Within Paradise Valley town limits there is Mummy Mountain, Phoenix Mountain Preserve and the north side of Camelback Mountain.

Paradise Valley homeowners are responsible for maintaining all natural washes located on their property. An understanding of town codes concerning natural washes and arroyos is necessary to reduce flooding and storm damage on resident property, town officials say.

The town’s drainage system consists primarily of privately maintained natural washes with limited underground drainage systems, bridges and culverts.

“Most of the homes around me have been redeveloped by the new owners, torn down and built new,” Mr. Bjerkeseth said of his three-development neighborhood of tract-type homes.

Mr. Bjerkeseth says many of Paradise Valley’s flooding issues are self-created.
“I think what Paradise Valley’s stance was, if nobody ever complained, nothing was ever said,” he said.

“Here is the thing: Everybody who built over these washes, blocked these washes. Who is culpable? Are the Realtors culpable? I don’t know if the Town of Paradise Valley is culpable, but they are not enforcing anything and that is the problem.”

The town’s approach

Paradise Valley Town Manager Kevin Burke says the municipality is and has been enforcing its rules in regard to drainage easement and storm water management.

Kevin Burke

Kevin Burke

“Yes, the town regularly enforces its ordinances regarding development within identified washes,” he said in an April 1 written response to e-mailed questions.
“The Building Permit Application also requires grading and drainage plans and drainage easements for projects with a value over $500,000.”

Mr. Burke says the town requires all modifications to water flow due to private development to be approved by a town engineer and all existing private structures within local washes are required to have those plans filed with municipality prior to construction.

“All of these requirements are backed by Town Code provisions. And the town regularly obtains drainage easements and an accompanying maintenance agreement for the drainage area as a requirement of new development,” he explained.

“The town enforces its own codes — not the county’s regulations — with respect to washes and drainage-ways, including restrictions on building in a wash or drainageway and in requiring stormwater to enter and exit a property under development at the same locations.”

Mr. Burke points to Section 5-10-5(B)(2a)(e) of Town Code as the staff’s standing orders in approval of documents allowing private development within identified wash systems.

“Again, the town enforces its own regulations and standards and violations of the Town Code are a misdemeanor and can be prosecuted as either a misdemeanor or filed as a civil offense,” he said.

“First offenses are often filed as a civil offense, with fines that can range up to $750 per each day that the violation continues. Misdemeanors are punishable by imprisonment of up to six months or a fine of up to $2,500, or both.

“Additionally, for egregious violations that threaten public health and safety, the town has declared such to be a nuisance and could use nuisance abatement to remove the nuisance, such as a structure that blocks a wash, and then file a lien on the offending property.”

Gary Estates, Mummy Mountain and La Vista engineered washes flow with the red circles depicting wash blockages. (Submitted graphic)

Gary Estates, Mummy Mountain and La Vista engineered washes flow with the red circles depicting wash blockages. (Submitted graphic)

The perception of fault

Water flows have not been maintained, Mr. Bjerkeseth contends.

“These guys really haven’t got a clue on how this water flows,” he said. “I have all the engineering that says where the water is supposed to go. Now go look at all the building permits they ignored and the way they let people build all over them.”

Mr. Bjerkeseth says his neighborhood’s flooding issues are “a microcosm of what this whole city is.”

“If they open up these easements it would solve 95 percent of these problems,” he said. “The problem is that all of these homes have been built and no one has diverted anything. All they have done is built dams. Looking at the rules they (the town) can come in here and do whatever they need to do.”

Mr. Burke contends Paradise Valley has measures in place addressing water retention, easements and maintaining established wash systems.

“If a structure that blocks a wash or diverts flows from the wash is built without a permit, then the town would request that the structure be removed — if the town were aware of the impermissible structure,” he said.

“If a building or property is under construction when a structure that blocks or diverts a wash is reported, a Stop Work Order is issued and the structure must be removed, unless the owner is able to  apply to alter the wash as noted above — which does not happen often.

“If an obstruction is discovered after construction, then a letter of violation is sent giving three weeks to remedy the violation.  If no response a second letter is sent giving 10 days to remedy the violation.  If no action is taken this is followed up by a citation.”

In terms of legal culpability, Mr. Burke says liability typically follows the entity that built the structure.

“The general rule is that liability follows the person who constructs the structure or modifies the land so as to divert water onto the property of another, which is almost always some party other than the town,” he pointed out.

Paradise Valley Town Council is hosting another stormwater community talk from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Thursday, April 23 to discuss next options and the potential for micro studies on the unique drainage issues facing the municipality.

Northeast Valley Managing Editor Terrance Thornton can be contacted at tthornton@newszap.com

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