07/26/04 — Flood victim afraid ditch will cause more problems

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Flood victim afraid ditch will cause more problems

By Bonnie Edwards
Published in News on July 26, 2004 1:57 PM

LaGRANGE -- A Hurricane Floyd victim says he's afraid he will be flooded again by a ditch the state has deepened on his property.

Willie Draughon said he saw a state Department of Transportation crew working across Beston Road from his house a week ago and asked it to deepen a ditch on his property. The crew leader agreed, and Draughon signed an affidavit allowing the work.

Draughon said a farmer had complained to the DOT about poor drainage in the pie-shaped field that he was tending across from Draughon's house. It's bordered on two sides by Beston and Piney Grove Church roads where they come together between LaGrange and Seven Springs. Draughon lives on the Beston Road side.

"They came out and started digging, and I thought it was great," said Draughon, who assumed the other property owners would agree to the ditch work on their properties. The ditch beside his house used to run about a mile to Walnut Creek, and he said he was told the DOT used to dig all the way to Walnut Creek.

But when he found out the property owners behind him didn't want the DOT digging in the ditches on their properties, he stopped the crew from digging any more. He said one of the property owners had filled in his ditch with construction debris.

The ditch along the side of Draughon's yard had been flooding, and standing water would putrefy and breed mosquitoes.

Draughon said DOT Engineer Ricky Bell and two sheriff's deputies came to the house Friday after he stopped the crew from digging any more. Draughon said Bell told him the state has the right to send water onto his property. Draughon said he was told he would be liable if he filled in the ditch.

"I told Mr. Bell I sure as hell will not stand for that, and he got upset because I used the word 'hell,'" said Draughon. "I think I have a right to protect myself from being flooded again. I lost everything in the flood of '99. I don't think the state or anybody else has a right to flood me out to save somebody else's half-acre of cotton."

Draughon said he's going to call in the trucks to fill it in the next time the ditch backs up into his yard from a heavy rain. He also said he planned to call elected officials about the problem.

Ricky Bell said he is going to check at the Wayne County Courthouse for any recorded easement at that location. If he finds an easement recorded there, he said the DOT will finish opening up the ditch where Draughon stopped the workers.

"If not, we'll just leave the liability with him," said Bell. "According to drainage laws of North Carolina, you clean your own ditch out to the property line, and your neighbor is responsible for cleaning his ditch. The only place we're liable for is the road's right of way."

Bell said Draughon is already liable, because he stopped the workers before they were able to finish opening up the blockage caused by silt. "He's liable for any damage that occurs at his neighbor's house, or if there's an accident from the water crossing the road," said Bell. "If the cotton field drowns, he's liable for that."

He said the DOT was doing Draughon a favor getting the water away from the road, and the state cannot go the entire 3,000 feet to the swamp near Walnut Creek like Draughon wants the DOT workers to do.

"There are too many environmental regulations," he said. "We just don't do it. Normally, we have two-months-worth of people wanting us to do their ditches. This is highly unusual. Most people are thankful we get to them to do the work."