Ten-year fight over drainage ditch unresolved

Woods of Seaside resident says area is unsafe
August 11, 2014

Joe Sudimak is worried that someone – possibly his own grandchildren – will fall and get seriously injured in a large drainage ditch along his property line in the Woods at Seaside near Rehoboth Beach.

For 10 years, he has been trying to get someone in his community to take his concerns seriously; he hasn't had any success. Over the past four years, he has stepped up his efforts to draw attention to his dilemma.

“I was patient for a long time,” he said, adding that the abundance of rain during 2010 exacerbated his concerns.

“Four people have slipped into the ditch; it's an accident waiting to happen,” he said. “The community brushes it off like nothing is going on.”

But, he may have found an ally in House Speaker Pete Schwartzkopf, D-Rehoboth Beach. After visiting the site on two occasions, Schwartzkopf said he agrees with Sudimak that the area is dangerous. “The only problem it that this is on private property,” he said. “But I'm looking into it to see what can be done.”

Schwartzkopf has had Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control and Delaware Department of Transportation staff look at the drainage ditch. He accompanied DelDOT staff to the site on Aug. 4.

Sudimak wants pipe buried

Standing in Sudimak's front yard on Beaver Dam Reach, it's easy to see that water runoff from his end of the community goes by his property. Water comes off the road onto a large concrete pad into a 24-inch pipe, onto rip-rap rocks and then to a retention pond near his backyard.

A portion of the pipe is buried underground. He's been asking the community homeowners' association to extend the pipe to the retention pond, remove the rocks and bury the remaining section.

Schwartzkopf said the rocks in the ditch break up the force of water draining into the retention pond. “I don't see an issue with extending the pipe, but they may have to place rocks further into the pond,” he said.

After years of debate over the issue, the HOA offered Sudimak an ultimatum: It would put up shrubbery to create a living fence along the border of the ditch. Sudimak, 82, said that solution does not go far enough. “It's a ridiculous offer,” he said.

According to the HOA, after a review of Sudimak's complaints, the community’s insurance carrier, an independent contractor and the Sussex Conservation District concurred it was not necessary to extend the pipe and fill in the ditch.

He was told in a September 2011 letter from the HOA that extending and burying the pipe would create significant debris accumulation in the pipe that would present an entrapment danger to humans and animals. He was also told the ditch was not viewed as a safety hazard.

Sudimak rejects that conclusion pointing to a letter in his large file of paperwork from the community's insurance company that states some action should be taken.

Then this past June, Sudimak was told in a letter from Right Property Management that the condition existed when he purchased the property and his request to put the pipe underground would not be approved.

He has since contacted the community's liability insurance carrier who has committed to send an agent to visit the drainage ditch in early August.

Sudimak said the HOA spends money to maintain the ditch. “If they eliminate the hazard they will also eliminate the maintenance and save money,” he said.

Sudimak's only way to reach his neighbors about his concerns is to make copies of his letters and documents and hand deliver them to more than 80 houses. He's been doing that for years.

In his last of many letters to community homeowners, Sudimak wrote: “We continue to ask for your support so that no one should have to suffer any injury as a result of our community's negligence to eliminate this long-standing danger.”

So far, the only resident who has supported him is his neighbor who also borders the drainage ditch.

Sudimak, a retired teacher and school administrator from Hockessin, moved with his wife to the area in 2001. “This is supposed to be our American dream,” he said. “It used to be that people cared for one another, but not today.”