Faye McBee, a grandmother of three who lives in a cozy one-story house at the corner of Wright and Henderson streets, received an alarming message in April from the man who cuts her grass.
“He said, ‘there’s a hole under the driveway,'” said McBee, who lives with her Pomeranian, Libby.
“I got down and started looking under the driveway on my belly, lying on it, and it was a cavern under there,” she said.
The earth beneath her concrete driveway was gone.
“It’s a wonder it didn’t collapse,” she said. “It was just concrete and air.”
McBee called the city, which sent a crew to remove the suspended portion of concrete and filled the crevice with gravel.
Workers discovered that a four-foot square storm drainage pipe runs 11 feet under her driveway and the house next door before heading under Wright Street and dumping it in the creek across the street.
Portions of the culvert had collapsed, said Dan Conn, the city’s public works director.
Conn said the culvert would have been installed after her house was built, which McBee said was around the time of WWII.
“It couldn’t take the water flow and pressure from all these businesses,” McBee said, pointing to the 150-bedroom Henderson Arms senior housing high-rise building located behind her. “When they put that (culvert) in, there might have been five houses on this street and vacant land. Nothing else was here. It was pecan groves. And then they built all this stuff … There’s just too much water coming into this for this old thing to hold.”
A spring storm washed all the gravel down the pipe and into the creek, she said.
So McBee called the city again, and the city again came out and filled the crevice with gravel again, in addition to offering to repair the culvert on two conditions: The first is that both McBee and her neighbor, Brenna Bentley Bitler, a Mount Paran Christian School counselor, had to sign an agreement not to hold the city liable if the repairs didn’t work. The second condition was that they had to pay the city $2,896.
“I don’t think it’s mine,” she said. “It’s not my responsibility. It’s an old, decrepit 100-year-old culvert that somebody should have known was under there.”
A second thunderstorm then washed out the second batch of gravel. With each rain, the hole gets worse, she said.
“All the neighbors are saying, “‘Oh God, you’re going to clog up the creek. You’re going to flood the whole neighborhood down here,’ so I told Mr. Conn ‘don’t put any more gravel in the hole,'” she said.
Brenna Bitler’s husband, Brian, said he and his wife have moved to his house in Fulton County to escape.
“Every time it starts raining, I really start sweating,” he said. “At some point the foundation of the house is going to give way.”
Now that the crevice has gotten worse, the city wants $13,424 to repair the pipe, Conn said.
Bitler wants to accept the deal. McBee doesn’t.
“I don’t think it’s right that we should have to pay a dime, and I don’t think it’s right that we should have to sign this piece of paper,” McBee said. “But on the other hand, I don’t want these kids (Brian and Brenna Bitler) … to have to suffer.”
Councilman Johnny Sinclair, who represents the area, said she needs to sign the indemnity agreement and wouldn’t support an agreement between her and the city if she didn’t.
“Even if we fixed it, we can’t take ownership of the pipe or the problem,” Sinclair said. “The city didn’t build the pipe, nor did we build the houses, but we want to do everything we can to help the homeowners, because eventually if the problem spins out of control it will threaten the public infrastructure.”
City Councilman Philip Goldstein said he is also opposed to the city fixing the culvert if McBee doesn’t sign the waiver.
“What she wants the city to do is fund and guarantee that her problem is going to be taken care of, and it’s not the city taxpayers’ responsibility,” Goldstein said.
McBee, who has multiple sclerosis, said she can’t take much more.
“I just can’t do it anymore,” she said. “I’m thinking about saying, ‘OK, just put a lien on my house,’ because I have no money. I don’t have $3,000. I don’t have 3,000 cents.”