When 30-year-old Heather Purks and her husband, Jeffrey, moved to South Rustic Lane in Lumberton, they hoped that the spacious back yard of their new home would allow their children, Andrew, 8, and Audrey, 4, a nice area to play and jump on the family’s trampoline, one of the kids’ favorite activities. But to their consternation, they soon realized the street they had moved to had no proper drainage and that, in reality, their children wouldn’t even be able to walk through their yard without wearing rubber boots on a daily basis.
The family had to push the trampoline the children love up against the back deck of the home so Andrew and Audrey would have access to it without getting their feet soaking wet and muddy.
The nightmare continued for the Purks.
The standing water around the Purks’ foundation has caused their house to become unstable, said Heather, who works as a substitute teacher for Lumberton ISD. Her kitchen countertops and cabinets are separating from the walls because of the dampness of the walls caused by the wet foundation and there are cracks protruding from the frame of the bedroom door, which will not close properly.
Also, the exterminator told Heather that the standing water, a constant around the foundation, was causing “conductive conditions” for termites and carpenter ants.
The Purks’ neighbor, 40-year-old Michelle Simon, has similar headaches due to the lack of drainage, something she has contacted the city of Lumberton regarding only to be told that there wasn’t enough manpower available to dig ditches and that the city would try to fix the problem as soon as the weather allows and when the ground is dry enough for something to be done.
“We’ve got a small work crew up here,” said John Reynolds, foreman for the city of Lumberton maintenance department. “It is two men working the drainage ditches and setting culverts.”
Two other workers will be cleaning out existing ditches, Reynolds added — giving the city a total of five workers for the maintenance department, including Reynolds, to tackle the drainage problem.
“The easements are small and we have to get in there with shovels. We’re going to be cleaning out and digging existing ditches,” he said.
Reynolds said that the problem is most likely due to the wet season that Southeast Texas has had this year, but Simon, who leases out her trailer on South Rustic, said she has never been able to keep a tenant for very long due to the drainage issues. It has always been a problem, she said.
“Everybody moves because of it, and I don’t blame them,” Simon said.
The road becomes inaccessible after a storm and the ground doesn’t dry up for months, Purks said.
Both Purks and Simon said they haven’t been able to mow their yards because of the soft ground and have even received warnings from the city that their grass was too high.
“I had mowers, but you can’t push a mower on that,” said Jody Simon, a former tenant of Michelle Simon’s. The two women are not related.
The mosquitoes were a huge problem as well due to the standing water, Jody said.
“You could not go outside without them just attacking you,” she said.
Jody said she was also concerned about black mold under the trailer, which she believed was coming up through the air conditioning vents and causing the family to have allergy problems. Michelle added that she had to tear walls out of the trailer because of black mold problems.
After two years of dealing with the drainage issue, Jody said it just became too much for her family to bear.
Since they moved out, their lives have become much better, she said. The problem continues for Michelle, however, who has attempted to sell her property but has been unsuccessful.
Her real estate agent, who asked not to be named, said that selling the house has become impossible due to the drainage issue and that it is the first thing that potential buyers notice when shown the property.
“That whole area is just very soggy. Comparing one property that would be similar to that one, a person would lean to another subdivision because of the sogginess of the grounds.”
Lumberton city manager Steve Clark agreed with Simon that the problem is not a new issue and, like Reynolds, blamed it on a lack of workers to tackle the issue.
“That problem has been like that for many, many, many years,” Clark said. “It was before her and probably before Lumberton was incorporated into a city. These subdivisions were built without a lot of thought in mind.”
Clark said the drainage for the city over the last 10 years has improved 100 percent.
But South Rustic’s drainage has not improved, according to Simon, who has been leasing a property on South Rustic since the late 1990s.
Clark said there is only one drain, located at the end of the street.
“There is no easement for us to get in there with city equipment,” he said. “You have to just about dig it by hand. You can’t get out there when it’s muddy and dig ditches.”
Clark pointed to the lack of a drainage district in Hardin County as a problem.
“We don’t have a drainage district; we don’t have a property tax,” he said. “We don’t have the funds to do these improvements. Hardin County doesn’t have a drainage district because that would mean an increase in taxes.”
Reynolds said the city has a pending work order to work on the drainage problem on South Rustic but doesn’t know when the city will get to it or how long it will take.
Clark agreed that it was the city’s responsibility to take care of the problem but also said, “If you build your house in a hole, you’re going to have to just understand there’s going to be times you may have water in your yard. It’s not my job to go out there and fill your yard up with dirt and make it nice and high.”
Kevin King can be reached at (409) 832-1400, ext. 225, or by e-mail at kevin [at] theexaminer [dot] com.