Homeowners may file suit tied to collapsing seawalls

September 5, 2012

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Homeowners who invested hundreds of thousands of dollars to live in canal homes at The Island behind Walmart said they are considering a class action lawsuit against the developer because their seawalls are collapsing.

One woman who was on her lawn when it collapsed reportedly sustained a leg injury.

“I really do think this could be a disaster,” said Tonya Sullivan, who lives on Chelsea Bay Court. The development is off Waters Edge Drive.

Residents said they have been told they will have to spend between $22,000 and $30,000 each to fix the problem, possibly even having to pay for hotel rooms and meals for workers coming from out-of-town. Expensive sprinkler systems and landscaping will have to come up when repairs are done, residents said they have been told.

Sullivan said that the seawall repairs done by some homeowners appear to have accelerated the collapse of their neighbors’ seawalls on either side of them.

“It’s sad. It’s really, really sad,” she said of the financial impact on homeowners. She said she was told that the collapsing seawalls could eventually crack the foundations of houses in the development.

Sullivan and Carl Skelkey, who lives on Sunset Bay Court, said that lots are continuing to be sold to people who want to live on the lake and intend to build expensive homes. Both said that “deadmen,” also called anchor walls, are supposed to be about every 5 feet along the seawall, but on their properties, they are much farther apart.

A neighbor of Sullivan’s, who did not want to be identified, sent an email to a local Realtor warning of liability if Realtors sell homes in an area where a known problem exists.

“I am telling you this because I suspect there will be some legal action taken if the problem is not resolved at the developers level,” the email states. “I think it will take the collective effort and support of all the Builders involved and the Realtors selling these properties in this subdivision. I can see some downstream litigation effecting (sic) selling agencies as yours and all the builders who may be liable. This could be a serious matter if not resolved effectively and promptly.”

DEVELOPER

Developer John Femrite did not return phone messages by press time. A representative of a Fort Worth-based engineering firm that the Hood County News was told had done the engineering work at The Island was out of town and unavailable for comment, according to a staffer at that office.

Sullivan claims that a Brazos River Authority (BRA) official told her that the problem will have “a zipper effect” and continue to get worse unless fixed throughout the development.

BRA spokeswoman Judi Pierce said that the BRA had no role in permitting the seawalls. She said that the BRA only issues permits for property that is actually in the lake bed, and that permits would not apply to the seawalls at The Island. However, she said that she was in the process of tracking down the history of what has taken place at The Island.

Granbury City Manager Wayne McKethan said that the seawalls involved no permitting or inspections from the city.

“I’ve done some research, and we did not do any inspections on any of that because we have no responsibility in terms of those canals,” McKethan said.

The city manager said that he believes those particular canals have been there for 10 years. Pierce noted that in January 2009, the Granbury City Council adopted an ordinance pertaining to canals and seawalls, using recommendations from the BRA that were the result of an engineering study.

The collapsing seawalls have not been the only problem in the Catalina Bay Phase II development.

In October 2010, the Hood County News reported on what a former city engineer said was a cover-up by city officials of water and sewer line violations in the canal development. Donny Armstrong, whose claims were backed up by another former city employee who asked to remain anonymous, said that the infrastructure problems could result in cross contamination and raw sewage being dumped in the lake.

Interim City Manager Ron Berryman said that an inquiry into the matter by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) was the result of “misinformation and confusion,” and that the city had done nothing wrong. It is not clear whether those alleged problems could be connected in any way to the issues with the collapsing seawalls.

Sullivan said that, during a recent rain, she used a bucket to dig mud out of an area on her property where the seawall has separated in a desperate attempt to prevent further collapse. She said that she and other homeowners will probably have to get a lawyer “and we’ll win,” she said.

“No one so far has been responsible for it,” Sullivan said. “I was tricked into a contract because they didn’t disclose the truth.”

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