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ABC21 Digging Deeper: Ditched

If you drove through the subdivision of Norland Park in Auburn five weeks ago, you would have seen construction trucks, torn up lawns and muddy ditches lining the sides of the roads.

Today, things look a lot greener. New sod covers the ditches. 

But some homeowners are still outraged. They say the ditches are a safety concern and the city cut corners on costs – leaving them with diminished values for their homes.

Front end loaders and bulldozers serenaded the homeowners of Norland Park this summer, as the city made good on a longtime promise to repair the subdivision’s roads. But it’s what’s on the side of those roads that had homeowners seeing red.

"As I tell my coworkers at the library," said Mary Landis. "I now live in the ditch addition of Auburn."

"We’re stuck with this ditch from now on," said Donald Lee. "Forever."

"I don’t like it," said Marilyn Carr. "I don’t like the depth."

"We had nice front yards and everything," said Tom Culler. "And now all of a sudden we got ditches in them."

At 85-years-old, Landis still takes care of her yard, but with an 8 x 2 ft ditch at the edge of her large front lawn, she’s worried she might have to strain her fixed budget to get professional help.

"It feels like that I’ve been slapped," says Landis. "And knocked down."f

"This is so much deeper," said a frustrated Carr. She worries her rider will tip over if she tries to cut grass over the ditch. 

"I didn’t expect this," exclaimed Carr.

"I don’t think the mayor or any of the councilman would vote for something like this for their mother to maintain," said Lee.

City engineer Steve Klein turned down our request for an on-camera interview, but over the phone he told ABC21 the city took extra care to ensure the ditches were "very mowable."

Klein said ditches would stay within a 1 foot deep by 4 feet wide ratio. But if you walked into one ditch five weeks ago, it measured three feet deep. 

"Makes me feel like they devalued my property," says Culler.

Culler worries the ditches could be dangerous for drivers when snow and ice slick the roads.

"It’s just a sore point I think with a lot of the people out here," says Culler. "And I don’t feel good about it myself."

Like Landis and Carr, Culler hoped for curbs and drains, but found out they weren’t in the budget.

"They gave us a hodge podge deal because it was cheaper," said Landis. 

"I don’t think they need all the consultants they have," Carr chimed in. "I think they need to talk to the people that live here."

Alexis Gray: "Did you take their comments into consideration throughout this process?"

Mayor Norman Yoder: "Well you always balance the comments and what you can afford. You’d like the best and the greatest, but you can’t always afford that."

We interviewed Auburn Mayor Norman Yoder about the project last week.

"Per citizen here we’ve probably spent more money here probably than anywhere else in the city in the last 15 years," said Yoder.

Auburn received a matching state grant for a total of $1.2 million to fix the roads in Norland Park – roads Yoder says would have deteriorated without a place for rain water to go.

Gray: "Why no curbs and drains?"

Yoder: "It’s just the cost."

Yoder says drains would have at least doubled the current project cost – a project he says is working.

"There’s a corner lot up on the corner that if it got heavy rain the house was basically surrounded by water," recalled Yoder. "That happens no more."

Gray: "So you think this is a success? Really?"

Yoder: "It’s much better than it was. Is it an ideal? Perfect? No. That’s in the eye of the beholder. But it’s the best we can do with the resources and availability of funding we had, and it’s as good as it’s been in over 30 years."

We followed up with Carr after the ditches were covered with grass.

"That made a big difference," said Carr.

She says crews filled out some of the ditch too.

"It’s fine," says said. "I don’t mind it now."

And the mayor forwarded us an enthusiastic voicemail from another Norland Park resident: 

"This is Harriet Myers from out in Norland Park," the recording played. "You guys did a good job. Congratulations."

We only had to drive down the street to find different feedback. 

"I am ticked," said a passionate Hilda Kennedy. "Sod or not, it’s still a ditch."

Kennedy says the ditch in her yard is too steep for her to rake leaves, so her teenage neighbor lent a hand. And when we asked her if the ditch helped with flooding…

 "I have never had water," snapped Kennedy. "Now there’s water standing in the dam ditch! It’s too deep. Too big. Too wide. You name it, it looks like crap!"

We went back to the same ditch we walked into five weeks ago. The ditch measured 3 by 11 feet – a steeper slope than the city claimed. Still, the mayor takes issue with those who see it as a "ditch."

"We call them swales not ditches," said Yoder. "Because they’re very mild, they’re not a very deep and steep thing."

"They told us it was going to be a swale," said Kennedy. "That’s not a swale. That is a ditch!"

"I will admit that with the sod it has made it look lots nicer," concedes Landis. "But I still have a ditch."

We also checked in with Landis, who like Kennedy, wasn’t impressed even after the sod.

"I’ve never had a ditch before," said Landis. "And I’ve been here 50 years so why should I have a ditch now?"

Gray: "Would you be happy with the work here if you were a homeowner here?"

Yoder: "Yeah. Yeah, I’ve lived where we’ve had open ditches."

"I can’t imagine anybody being happy with it," retorted Kennedy.

Before this year’s project, Yoder said the city spent $2-3 million building outlets for storm water on the perimeters of Norland Park. 


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