Ocean View looks to mandate drainage maintenance

At a workshop this week, the Ocean View Town Council discussed the responsibility for ditch maintenance in the town. Councilman Bill Olsen brought a preliminary draft of an ordinance that would officially delineate ditch maintenance to those who own the property that abuts a ditch, as a potential amendment to Chapter 169 — Property Maintenance.

“Any property owner in the town of Ocean View who has property which abuts any ditch, water course or other earthen structure, as described above, shall be responsible to control activities upon and maintain the owned property in such a manner as to not cause or contribute to obstructions in the ditch, water course or other earthen structure which would restrict, block or prohibit the free, open and continuous flow of water through the ditch, water course or other earthen structure.”

“You must take care of the ditches on your property,” synopsized Olsen.

He noted that the town has problems with residents throwing yard waste in ditches, as well as filling them in, both of which have added to the town’s drainage issues.

Administrative Official Charles McMullen said that those who move into town from other areas are not always used to drainage ditches and don’t know they serve an integral part of the town’s stormwater management system.

He added that the town also faces the issue of how to clean out drainage pipes that are filled with debris and silt.

Town Solicitor Dennis Schrader recommended the ordinance be more specific, rather than using the blanket term “ditches.”

“In my way of thinking, I’d like to divide it up into two categories, or two classes of stormwater management devices. One would be those that are associated with streets’ and roads’ rights-of-way. That would include swales, culverts under driveways, catch basins — all of the things that are within the rights-of-way in which we have ownership and control, simply because they are in front of a property.

“The second would be ditches, which in my mind are the larger stormwater facilities, the collectors or transmitters that send all of the accumulated water from streets and roads off to wherever the water goes.”

Schrader said the first category would be easy to manage, because those ditches would be on the town’s property and part of its road maintenance responsibilities.

Olsen also recommended that all the ditches within the town be designated as tax ditches and the town become the tax ditch manager, which Schrader agreed was a good idea.

“The advantage is the easement and management mechanism is already in place,” said Schrader.

However, those who wish to have a tax ditch on or adjacent to their property must submit an application to the Delaware Department of Natural Resources & Environmental Control.

“Anytime you need 100 percent participation, you’re going to have people at the back of the room who aren’t raising their hands,” said McMulen.

Mayor Gordon Wood added that the Town also needs to prevent others from altering ditches within the town.

“We absolutely need an ordinance that says nobody is permitted to do any modification of drainage capacity, including swales on public or private property without a permit from the Town.”

Schrader agreed, stating he would recommend the Town look into creating a penalty provision.

“So if we have to go in and clean it up and re-ditch it, that person ought to pay for it,” he said. “Without some type of remedial type actions being available to us in order to compel the good folks of Ocean View… there’s no reason to go through this exercise.”

“That’s right,” agreed Councilman Tom Sheeran. “It’s the same if we have to go cut their grass or shovel their snow.”

Within Olsen’s draft, it states that the abutting property owner would be required to remove any blockage, obstruction or materials causing an obstruction within 48 hours of a written notice from the Town.

Town Manager Dianne Vogel recommended that the Town offer a 14-day cure period. McMullen said that the Town would certainly work with anyone actively working toward remediating a drainage situation.

Schrader also recommended that the Town research whether or not there are potential funding sources for ditch repairs, other than through the town’s taxpayers. Wood agreed.

The council agreed to have Olsen, Schrader, McMullen and Vogel work on revising Olsen’s draft, and requested an update be provided at the March council meeting.