Whose problem is it anyway? Sinkhole sparks debate between Plano business owner and the city

by Michael Mosher on December 12, 2017

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Andrew’s Refinishing sits at the cross section of three cities. It has Plano to the east, Carrollton to the west and Hebron technically in the middle. For 10 years, owners John Telfer and his wife Lorna have run a business refinishing, refurbishing and reupholstering furniture.

But about a year ago, Telfer said he started to notice a slight slope in the ground, no bigger than half a foot, in front of his business.

In May 2016, he emailed the town of Hebron to see what was the matter. Hebron officials told him he should reach out to the city of Plano for answers.

Thus began a lengthy back-and-forth between Telfer, the city of Plano and other city officials in Carrollton, Lewisville, The Colony and Denton County.

“All this correspondence, back and forward, and quite frankly, nothing’s happened. This is now 18 months,” Telfer said.

And all the while, the slope swelled from a slight indention to a sinkhole about 8 feet in diameter.

“The sinkhole just developed overnight, and now it’s getting bigger,” Telfer said. “I’m afraid we might lose our building.”

In the valley below Telfer’s business is a central stormwater inlet. Plano, Carrollton and Hebron all have pipes that lead to this access point. When it works correctly, the pipes feed stormwater into the inlet, stormwater drains downhill through a pipe underneath Telfer’s property and into Indian Creek, about 150 yards away. Unfortunately for Telfer, the drainage isn’t working correctly.

Instead, when it rains, he said water builds up in the 20-foot access point and floods the valley below his business and onto the railroad tracks. The city of Plano has made a few visits to the site throughout the last year and a half, Telfer said – once to inspect the sinkhole and two more times with a pump to try and drain the stormwater buildup. After each visit, the hole continues to grow, he said.

Telfer believes stormwater isn’t draining because there’s a blockage somewhere in the pipe beneath his business or in the access point, keeping  water from draining into the creek. It could also be a “huge buildup of silt” clogging the pipes, he said.

Gerald Cosgrove, director of Plano Public Works, said the problem could be a broken pipe under Telfer’s property causing dirt from underneath the hill to fill the empty spaces.

Regardless of what’s happening underground, the main question yet to be answered is: Who’s going to get it fixed?

Telfer’s solution is to have the city clean out the access tower for any blockage or debris. But Cosgrove believes the problem lies with the piping underneath Telfer’s property – piping that doesn’t belong to the city of Plano.

When Plano built Parker Road about 15 years ago, Cosgrove said, they laid piping that fed into the existing access point on Telfer’s property. The pipe underneath Andrew’s was built between 1989 and 1996. And according to the Denton County Appraisal District, Minoo LLC owns the larger property where Telfer’s business sits. Telfer owns several lots of land within the property, as well as the lot the stormwater inlet sits on, he said.

According to Cosgrove,  the city is responsible for all the pipes that the city laid underneath Parker Road and east of the railroad tracks. Everything west of the tracks, including the pipe under Telfer’s property, is Telfer’s responsibility, he said.

“That’s where the disagreement is. We don’t think it’s our responsibility. It’s his because he owns the property. I think the sinkhole is his problem,” Cosgrove said. “Our responsibility stops at that inlet. We’re going to try to clean out our section as much as we can. And I think the argument’s going to be what caused the other sections to fill up with debris.”

The city of Plano has agreed to place a pump into Plano pipes and clear any mud or debris; however, Cosgrove said he won’t send anyone in to investigate the pipe under Telfer’s property.

“I don’t feel it is safe,” he said.

If Telfer and the city can’t reach an agreement on the matter, he said he may pursue legal action.

“I think we’ve been more than patient,” Telfer said. “I don’t know what else to do. I hate attorneys, but I’m being forced into it. That’s the last resort.”

Cosgrove agreed.

“I think at that point it might end up in court,” he said. “This is not an easy situation, and I think the fix is going to be expensive.”


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