Tag Archives: St. Louis County

Drainage Problems Are Bringing Tom and Me To Court

Drainage Problems Are Bringing Tom and Me To Court
by Carolyn Hasenfratz Winkelmann

In the spring of 2018, before Tom and I were married and I wasn’t yet living at his house, I started making a garden plan and beginning work on what would become our garden. I could see right away that drainage was a big problem in his yard and the garden plan would need to address it. Tom and I were also very concerned about the state of his basement. There were numerous large cracks and a couple of small rivers that ran across the floor every time it rained. Shortly after our marriage in August of 2018, we hired an engineer to tell us how serious the problems were and what should be done about them. The engineer confirmed our opinion that we needed to keep water away from the the house foundation and seal the cracks. He said this would probably be enough repair if we fixed the drainage problems on the outside of the house. If it got worse, we might need about $10,000.00 worth of pier work. We had the cracks fixed and next went to work on fixing the drainage issues.



Here are three photos of cracks in Tom’s basement that I took on July 29, 2019. The left photo shows a repair that was done some time before I knew Tom. The two right photos are repairs that were done in September 2018.

The garden plan I came up with is mostly my idea and I take responsibility for it. I based my plan on the following sources of information:

1. 16 years of personal experience gardening.

2. Completion of training to be a St. Louis and Missouri certified Master Gardener in 2016. (Link to photo of certificate). I have kept my certification current which involves at least 10 hours of continuing education and 40 hours of volunteer work per year.

3. I have attended workshops put on by MSD to learn proper techniques for managing stormwater runoff. Here is an article I wrote after one of the sessions I attended – MSD’s Project Clear and Our Local Water Issues

Relevant quotes from the MSD web page on Rainscaping (link here):

  • “Stormwater runoff is created by hard surfaces that cannot absorb water, like concrete, the footprint of a house, and compacted soils.”
  • “This (rainscaping) can be done through any combination of plantings, water features, catch basins, and permeable pavement, among other activities.”
  • “In a properly designed rain garden, water will soak into the ground within a day or two, long before mosquitoes have the opportunity to breed. They can be designed to attract the kinds of insects and wildlife that feed off mosquitoes, reducing their numbers around your property. Rain gardens can also help eliminate yard ponding, in which water can pool long enough for mosquitoes to multiply.”
  • “A rain garden gives water runoff a beneficial and safe place to go, helping to keep it away from your foundation where water problems can occur. It can also help reduce or eliminate water ponding on your property. Since rain gardens reduce the amount of stormwater entering the sewer system, they can help prevent basement backups and sewer overflows.”

4. I have read over the suggestions for controlling water runoff on the Missouri Botanical Garden web site.

Rainscaping practices

Relevant quotes:

    • “Plant a rain garden or develop a swale to help retain water in the soil and prevent runoff.”
    • “Incorporate rainscaping features such to manage stormwater.”

 

Here are the rainscaping features we have added so far:

    • Rainwater harvesting – We have installed two rain barrels so far.
    • Rock weirs – I have installed two of them at the Southeast corner of the property so that if there is any runoff that overtops the dry well at the end of the rain garden, soil will not be lost into the street.
    • Bioswale/Rain Garden – I have made several of these and am in the process of planting them with rainscaping plants to absorb more of the rainwater than the clay soil can currently absorb. Quantities and names of rain garden plants that I have added:
    • Lawn alternatives – we are allowing four different kinds of water-loving groundcover grow in place of turfgrass in parts of the lawn close to areas that collect water.
    • Soil amendments and mulching – we have added 13 cubic yards of soil (that’s a whole dump truck load) from St. Louis Compost that is 50% compost to improve the water absorption ability of our clay soil. So far we have added half a pickup truck bed full of mulch with more to come.

5. I read over the St. Louis County guidelines for land disturbance. We are within the guidelines because we are disturbing less than 30 square yards, less than 2000 square feet, are doing residential landscaping in a one family dwelling and have provided safeguards against erosion (the dry well and rock weirs).

6. I consulted with the owner of a landscaping company that I worked for part time for two years doing consulting and labor on client’s properties.

Here are some pictures that document what the yard looked like before we started working on it:



North West and North areas of our yard on March 27, 2018 showing that we had problems with standing water before I started any rainscaping. Also note that the neighbor’s yard accumulated standing water before I did any rainscaping. Here is a link to the shared photos to prove the date I took the pictures:
Tom’s Yard March 2018

 



The image on the left of this pair shows water collecting around the house foundation on March 27, 2018. The right photo shows water collecting around the house foundation on November 1, 2018. Here is a link to the shared photos to prove the date I took the picture on the right:
Tom’s Yard November 2018

 



Here is a graphic that shows where the neighbor’s water discharge pipes are located (red) and the area of our yard that was prone to collect water (blue) before I started rainscaping.

Yes I drew on the satellite picture where the neighbor’s drainpipes are and where the water collecting areas were. Don’t just take my word for it. Here are some videos showing the water flow happening in real time during a rainstorm. These videos were shot on July 1, 2019.

https://youtu.be/UIGlDAK3McY – the two back downspouts in the neighbor’s backyard are shown. I don’t know if you can tell from the video, but in addition to the drainpipes being aimed at our yard, the neighbor’s yard is sloped downward to drain directly into our backyard.

https://youtu.be/usO0kYKr7Ko – this video shows how the front drainage pipe is aimed right at our driveway. We had to have our driveway replaced in November of 2018 due to cracks and damage caused by years of this water flowing over it and freezing and thawing in the cracks.

Here is a link to photos I took on November 1, 2018 showing new driveway and other pictures around the house foundations. November 1, 2018

https://youtu.be/Up2nHlhyf_c – here is a video showing how wet the backyard gets and how I connected the neighbor’s low spot to ours to faciliate drainage of her yard and to avoid interrupting the flow from one yard to another.



These photos were both taken on July 1, 2019. As you can see, the area was dry before it rained. Here is a link to the photos I took on July 1 before and after it rained so you can verify the date and that the photos were taken on the same day and that the rain garden areas do drain in between rains like they are designed to. Also note that the neighbor’s yard and our yard drain better than they did before I did any rainscaping work and the areas of standing water are smaller than they were on the March 27, 2018 photos. As I get more plants in the bioswales and rain gardens and the existing plants get bigger and the soil continues to improve, the ground will absorb water even faster in the future. As I add plants I add humus and the plant roots penetrate the clay below to facilitate drainage. The 235 plants I already have are doing a good job. More are coming, but it’s not easy to get anything to grow in clay and you can’t do transplants into clay and expect them to live during the hottest time of summer. July 1, 2018

My garden plan was designed to help alleviate the following problems:

1. Soil is almost all clay and absorbs very little water.

2. Clay soil not only resists absorbing water, it expands and shrinks in wet and dry weather causing cracking in the foundation.

3. The existing soil cannot absorb the runoff from our own house. In addition, the majority of the drainage from the neighbor’s property to the west is directed onto our property so that we not only have our runoff to deal with, we have most of hers too.

4. Our back patio and back sidewalk were tilted toward the foundation directing water right into the cracks and making them worse. In addition, since they were solid concrete they inhibited water from being naturally absorbed into the soil.

I decided to draw up a plan that addressed these issues and employed rainscaping techniques because my conscience will not allow me to direct water right into the storm sewers when I know that MSD is spending billions of dollars to try to alleviate flooding in our area caused by too much storm runoff AND I’m well aware of how to manage our own storm water responsibly and avoid contributing to flooding and poor water quality downstream from us. How much damage has been done across the Midwest this spring and summer by floods? We’re trying to deal with our excess storm water in a way which does not just push the problem onto someone else. I know most people don’t take our neighbors downstream from us into consideration when making landscaping choices but we are not those kind of people.

Here is a 3 page PDF file showing the first citation, the summons to go to court, and the second citation. We took care of the invasive honeysuckle within two weeks, and the bricks before sundown the next day. Please note the dates of these three documents – May 20, June 25 and July 23. I am confused about why we have to go to court when we fixed the problems mentioned in the first citation in the time limit set by the county. The court summons was issued on June 25 when the work was completed by May 31 (to clarify, the bricks were fixed by sundown May 4 and the invasive honeysuckle trimmings by May 31 as required in the first citation). Furthermore, I also don’t understand why we got another citation before even having the court date yet.

Here in summary here are the reasons why I do not believe we deserve any citations or fines from St. Louis County:

    • The next door neighbor who called the county to say she doesn’t like our garden admitted to me that she called because she thinks it’s ugly, not because it was causing her any problems. She revealed this after I offered her some of the dirt we bought from St. Louis Compost to help her raise her wet spot (which existed before our rainscaping as you have seen) and some premium grass seed with really long roots to help absorb water. You can’t get this grass in big box stores, the hybrid is only sold in select garden centers. I couldn’t understand why she was refusing and she said she just thought our garden was ugly. Her yard is much uglier in my opinion and one of the reasons I’ve planted plants along the fence is to hide the view of her yard. You can see from the videos that her yard is full of invasive weeds, concrete, trash cans, brush piles, yard tools and the like.



Ugly is kind of in the eye of the beholder isn’t it? This photo was taken on July 30, 2019. On the left is a very nice Assumption Lily in our neighbor’s yard with invasive weeds (Mimosa, Japanese Honeysuckle) around it. On the right we have an unplanted area on our side of the fence in the foreground and an herb garden barely begun behind it. So far we’re growing in this section Bronze Fennel, Garlic Chives, Peppermint and Korean Hyssop and protecting the soil in the unplanted areas with mulch. Which side is uglier? If different people were to give different answers it would not surprise me.

    • We could have sued this neighbor for ruining our old driveway. We didn’t do this because we thought peaceful relations with neighbors were more important. This is what we get in thanks for that. I never spoke to her until I went over to ask her why she called the county on us instead of just asking us to fix what she didn’t like. It’s not like I went out of my way to cause problems with her. My computer desk faces her back yard and I’ve observed her glaring at me before through the window but since we never spoke I had no idea what her problem was.

 

    • We have improved the drainage in her yard and the neighbor on the other side of us no longer has our runoff going over his driveway, therefore we have helped the lifespan of his driveway and possibly saved him thousands of dollars. (We know how much it costs because we just got one.) We disagree that we have caused a drainage nuisance to our neighbors, rather we have provided a solution to an existing problem and both of their properties have been helped at no cost to them.

 

    • Water does not stay in the rain garden areas long enough to grow mosquito larvae so we don’t agree that we have caused a nuisance there either. As you can see from the photos I showed you, we already had a worse standing water problem BEFORE the rain garden was started. Some breeds of mosquitoes can breed in as little as a teaspoon of water. You can see from the photos that we had a lot more than a teaspoon of standing water BEFORE I started the garden. It also hung around a lot longer than one or two days. As a precaution I also treat the water when it occurs with BTI (Bacillus thuringiensis serotype israelensis) just in case we have more than a normal amount of rain for a few days. This makes our yard and neighborhood SAFER from mosquitoes than before we did anything – therefore we believe we should receive commendations for what we have done, not citations. Since we have improved the existing situation, we don’t agree that we have created a nuisance.



Here are three areas of the rain garden that I consider finished or nearly so. These photos were taken July 30, 2019. They have been planted with plants that can take varying water levels and clay soil. Their roots improve water penetration into the ground. I also added some better soil and mulch after planting. As you can see there is no standing water, even though it rained at least three times yesterday.

    • The day before we received our first notice from the county, (May 2) I was out in the front yard working and I saw a St. Louis County work truck slow down in front of our house. The driver stared me down and gave me a foul look. She stepped on the gas and sped off. She didn’t even stop the truck all the way. If this is what passes as an inspection it’s no wonder the inspectors don’t understand the drainage situation and how the rain garden fixed most of it (still have to work out the driveway pipe situation so our new driveway doesn’t get ruined – was hoping to do it peacefully but quickly losing hope for that.) Note that the first inspection document says the yard was inspected on or around May 20, but the day we actually got the citation on our door was on May 3. (Strangely enough, on a Friday, the only day of the week we are both gone all day at the same time, and also the day after the county truck came by – suspicious enough behavior that I made a note of the date.) If everything is above board, why is stealth necessary? How do the inspectors know if there is standing water if they “inspect” on May 2 or 3 but claim it’s really May 20, when we go through long periods when it rains nearly every day? If the inspectors make a point of only coming on days when it rains or are not truthful about what days they come of course they can make claims that are misleading (if that’s what they are trying to do). Yesterday (July 29) it rained three times. There will probably be a time when we won’t have any standing water even during rain – when our soil is better. Remember we were starting with clay – we did not strip off good soil and cause these problems, the problems were decades in the making and started when these homes were built (in the 1950s). We paid over $350.00 to St. Louis Compost to ADD good soil.



Improving our soil. From left to right: Taking delivery of a full dump truck of 50% compost soil from St. Louis Compost on May 2. A full dump truck load is 13 cubic yards. 2nd photo – Tom spreading soil over where the old concrete patio was on May 6. We took out the concrete patio to make the ground more permeable so there is less standing water. Soil and mulch will be here until we are ready to install a new patio. It will be made of permeable pavers or mulch so we don’t bring back the previous drainage problems. 3rd photo – Picking up mulch in a rented pickup truck. Mulch makes soil drain better and protects it from erosion and compaction.

    • The large hole next to the future patio will become our new pond and waterfall area. We will stick to the county determined limit of 24″ of depth. It will have a liner, filter, aquatic plantings, two waterfalls and all the bells and whistles. We wish it was done already too. It takes time and money to build. For example I could have been working on that the last couple of days but so far I have spent 9 hours working on a defense for our court date and I’m not done yet. Plus there is the time we have to actually go. That’s a lot of hours that we aren’t getting useful work done. Edit: total time I spent on defending us in court was 17.4 hours.

 

    • The inspectors, if they come at all, seem to only come by when we aren’t home. Our neighbor can easily tell when we aren’t home and can tip them off. Therefore they can’t ask us questions and we can’t explain. That makes me suspicious about what is really going on. Yes completing our garden plan takes time. I don’t know of any construction sites that look good during the whole project. If construction sites had to be shut down every time it rained and there was a puddle or it looked ugly to someone nothing would ever get done. I think we are being treated unfairly and unethically and are not guilty of any violations. I’m considering setting up a webcam to see what the county people look at in our yard assuming they come at all so that we can defend ourselves more effectively. Should I spend this money on more garden improvements or more surveillance technology? Which will protect us more from fines and having to go to court? Questions I’m asking myself.

We don’t mind dealing with our neighbor’s runoff responsibly when she won’t, because the most important thing is that it gets done, but I think it’s wrong for us to be punished for it. When I talked to her to try to work out what she was really upset about she complained that our garden was ugly, that she had water in her basement, and her property taxes were too high. I can do something about making the garden less “ugly”, but I can’t do anything about her basement or property taxes. I don’t see why we should be punished for those things. We had the same problems in our basement and instead of attacking her we just fixed it and now we are being dragged into court for it. I have a co-worker who lives a few houses away and has water in his basement too. The whole neighborhood probably does because the whole neighborhood is built on clay. We’re trying to do something proactive and neighborly about it.

Here is a link to this document online if you ever want to refer to it and follow the live links:
http://www.chasenfratz.com/wp/drainage-problems-are-bringing-tom-and-i-to-court/

If we have not already addressed all the court’s concerns please inform us of how you would like us to proceed in order not to be fined. We’d rather spend the money on garden and property improvements. We still have a lot to do. My garden plan was intended to be a multi-year project. Phase 1 was expected to take three years. The more times we have to stop and go to court the longer it will take.

Update July 31, 2019

Last night in court the charges against us were dismissed. As for the second citation from July 23, it appears that our neighbor waited until we were on vacation and there was a day with a lot of storms to call the county inspector again and say there was standing water in our yard. Of course there is when she has directed nearly all her runoff to our yard. I thought of filling the bioswale areas that didn’t have plants in them yet with mulch so this didn’t happen when we were gone, but I wanted to be home when I tried this in case the storm water pushed the mulch around too much and made dams that would cause worse problems. I did expect her to try something when we were on vacation but I’m surprised the county inspectors go along with it and don’t see what she has done to us by directing her runoff to our yard. The county is displeased that we interrupted the flow of water from her yard to ours, but her entire yard is a barrier to water flow. You can see from the satellite photo that it is concrete from one end of the yard to the other, and we got taken to court for about 10 bricks in a raised bed that took 10 minutes (or less) to remove. Well the inspector was also on vacation last night, so the county inspector helping out in court last night gave me his email address so I forwarded the this article to him. I had no way of contacting him before to explain what is going on. I hope after this he will just talk to us. In the meantime, I have no problem with putting some mulch in the bioswales that don’t yet have plants and don’t yet absorb water very well. They would still be porous and function as designed until I can get more plants in. It will take a little time for new mulch to get “sticky” and “spongy” and absorb water well so I’ll need to keep a close eye on it.

Update August 15, 2019

081519

This was left on our door August 15. This is promising. I have a specific person I can contact with a phone number. I’m going to call him tomorrow morning. How do you think the conversation will go? Any predictions? I’ll let you know what happens!

Update August 19, 2019

I called and left a message for Anthony V. and he called me back within an hour or two. He sounds like a great guy, nice and reasonable and professional like the other inspector who helped us out in court on July 31st. At first he was talking to me about a different property and then he remembered which was the right property and told me I have to fill in the rain garden. It’s clear he didn’t read the article above that I emailed to him, or if he did he didn’t remember it. I explained to him the drainage issues the rain garden was designed to repair. I explained the damage to our house and driveway and how we had already spent thousands and were trying to prevent spending thousands more. I explained how the neighbor’s runoff is directed into our yard. I asked him to email to me a copy of the St. Louis County policy on rain gardens so that I could see what I was in violation of because I know of many rain gardens in St. Louis County and some of them are huge and they don’t seem to be a problem. He said that was covered under the land disturbance guidelines and I told him I had read those and I was following the restrictions in there. (I have a link to the Land Disturbance Guidelines above). He said he’d talk to his supervisor and get back to me. I missed his next voicemail which was not too long after and I gave him a return voicemail message so we are playing phone tag. I don’t know what the message is other than to call him. I gave him my email address so he can email me the statute I’m violating (assuming  there is one). If I’m going to fight it in court I need to know what it is first! I’m very glad we can communicate instead of Tom and I just finding “nastygrams” saying see you in court that are dropped off when we aren’t home.

Before we got off the phone, I asked him how to report the neighbor’s drainage pipes discharging onto our property. He said to report any that are closer than 10 ft to the main office. So I measured the four pipes in question and there are two closer than 10 feet. I opened my measuring tape to 10 feet and took these pictures to illustrate.

image_pairs_pipes

I reported to the Neighborhood Services main office. I know it seems incredibly stupid and petty to be measuring the neighbor’s pipes and reporting how close they are. This is what I’m forced to do because our neighbor was not content to let us deal with her excess stormwater at no cost to her. She is the one who involved the County, so now they are involved. I would have much preferred to not involve the government and waste taxpayer’s money, I’m sure they have much more important things to do. I’ll let you know what happens!
https://stlouisco.com/Property-and-Roads/Neighborhood-Services

Total time I’ve spent up to this point on our defense: 18.5 hours

Update August 20, 2019

Here is the answer I got from St. Louis County about the neighbor’s pipes being too close:

“St Louis County has no jurisdiction in Marlborough you will have to contact Marlborough concerning this matter. St Louis County only covers unincorporated areas .”

I thought we were in an unincorporated area, but if we are not, why is St. Louis County hassling us about our garden? Why is St. Louis County in charge one day and not the next day? When I have time, I’ll put in calls to Anthony, St. Louis County main office at the County and Marlborough City Hall and see where that goes.

Turns out don’t need to the above that just yet – response from County is we are unincorporated, St. Louis County has jurisdiction, and the complaint has been entered.

A little later I got a voice mail message from Anthony saying he talked to his supervisor and we have to get rid of the rain garden. I left a phone message for him asking him to send me a copy of the specific law we are violating and the name, phone number and email address of his supervisor. That’s the second time I requested a copy of the specific law. I have searched for things like “rain gardens St. Louis County guidelines” and “rain gardens St. Louis County restrictions” and I have found nothing.

Total time I’ve spent up to this point on our defense: 19.5 hours

Update August 23, 2019

Over the last couple of days I have contacted a lot of environmental organizations who might have in interest in this process and I asked them for advice and also if they have heard anything about rain gardens being illegal in St. Louis County. So far no one has let me know that they have heard it’s illegal. Some people are still looking for information or people for me to contact. I’m following up on contacts people have given me. So far the most specific advice is to request a copy of the actual law they think I am breaking. I have requested that twice this week and still don’t have it. I have asked the inspector I’ve been dealing with to also send me the name and contact information of his supervisor. I don’t have that yet either. He has my email address, I have given it to him at least twice, once by phone and once by email.

I decided to use the form available on the St. Louis County web site for public works since I know it works from when I reported the neighbor’s pipes the other day. It’s here: https://stlouisco.com/Property-and-Roads/Neighborhood-Services/Question-or-Complaint

Here is a copy of my message:

“Hi, inspector Anthony Vecchio left a notice on my door on August 15 saying he wanted to talk to me about our property at 7405 Rockwood Drive. I have spoken to him on the phone and he says that his supervisor told him that I have to get rid of my rain garden. I have not been able to find any information online about what my rain garden is violating. He said it was covered by the Guidelines for Land Disturbance which I have read and I haven’t been able to find anything in that document that we are violating. I asked him twice earlier this week for the specific law and I also asked him for the name and contact information for his supervisor. I have not received either yet.

I have contacted a great number of environmental organizations in the area for advice. I have also contacted MSD, Project Clear and Missouri Botanical Garden since they advocate for building rain gardens and I know that MSD has spent a lot of money testing and promoting rain gardens. What I have heard back so far is that they don’t know anything about rain gardens being illegal and I should request a copy of the specific statute that they are concerned with. I have requested that twice, on Tuesday and Wednesday and I don’t have it yet. I’ve also requested the name and contact information of the supervisor of Anthony Vecchio and I have not been provided with that information yet. Can you please send me those items ASAP? Thank you very much for your time!”

It rained a lot on Wednesday evening (Aug. 21), enough to necessitate the City of Brentwood (where I used to live and still own a condo) sending me flash flood warnings on my phone and in my email. I checked the rain gardens and bioswales to see how they were draining. They did look like they were probably on track to drain within 1 to 2 days if it didn’t rain again, but I realized I needed to take action because Tom and I are both going to be at work on Friday and I thought it likely that on that day we would get another inspection to try to catch us out and accuse us of having stagnant water. The last time I got a flash flood notice (July 22 when we were in Yellowstone National Park) we got another citation (see the July 23 document in the PDF file linked above) the day after. AND it looked like it was going to rain again. I can’t skip work to intercept the inspectors and try to explain the situation so I did my best to give the rain gardens a prophylactic treatment just in case.

First I put BTI in all the areas where water was present on August 22 (the day after the heavy rain)  as a safeguard against mosquitoes. This biological control needs to be reapplied every couple of weeks and these areas have been bone dry for awhile so I wanted to re-innoculate. The BTI is the brown crumbles floating on the surface.

Small rain garden with bioswales leading into it and out of it into the grass.
This area tends to collect water when it rains because I had to make it big enough to completely drain the wet spot on the neighbor’s side of the fence since the county has made us responsible for the runoff from the yard to the West. I have planted some water loving plants on the edge and more are coming to help dry this area faster. That has to wait until the weather is cool enough for transplants. Hopefully won’t be too long.

The next thing I did to speed up the drying in spots like the above was to weed along the edges so that more sunlight can get to it when the sun does come back out. I also made the bioswale that drains it a bit bigger to draw more water out into the grass.

Until I can get more transplants in, I have to make the clay soil more permeable. I used a metal pole to drive holes into the bottoms of the bioswales and rain gardens. Then I sprinkled in some organic matter in the form of wood chip mulch and dried up plant debris that we use as mulch. I kept adding organic matter until the water disappeared. Unfortunately it started to rain again before I could finish and the water level went up again, temporarily. The rain fell slowly enough that I didn’t inadvertently cause dams where I didn’t want them. In time micro-organisms and fungi will help the mulch stick together and be more sponge-like.

This picture was taken after poking holes and applying BTI, but before adding mulch and organic matter. In the spriing I created meanders in the bottom of this part of the rain garden to slow the water further. Meandering streams run more slowly and deposit more silt than straight streams. Kind of fun to make this happen in miniature!
This picture was taken after poking holes and applying BTI, but before adding mulch and organic matter. In the spring I created meanders in the bottom of this part of the rain garden to slow the water further. Meandering streams run more slowly and deposit more silt than straight streams. Kind of fun to make this happen in miniature!

I can speed the process up some by adding organic fertilizer that contains nitrogen and maybe an innoculation of untilled mature soil or a product designed to accelerate compost. When it dries out a little I’ll try this. I have some blood meal and a really good product called Love Your Soil by Jonathan Green that helps loosen bad soil. I did this process once before in late spring or early summer and it helped a great deal. Over time, as I drive in more holes the plants will have more soft spots to push roots into and break up the clay. Some of the native plants I’m putting in are adapted to penetrating clay with their roots alone which can only help.

Total time I’ve spent up to this point on our defense: 25 hours

Here is some correspondence that will catch you up on where we are today:


August 23rd, 2019, Anthony Vecchio to me

Mrs. Winklemann,

In regards to your inquiry regarding the notice of violation you received for the trenches dug around your property, the code violation specified is listed on the notice that was posted on your door and mailed to you. No grade may be altered in a way that prevents the natural flow of water or causes stagnant water theron. Should you have any further questions, please contact my supervisor Mr. John Gieler. He may be reached by calling 615-4100 where you can be directed to his extension.

Sincerely,

Anthony Vecchio
Inspector


August 23rd, 2019, Me to Anthony Vecchio

Mr. Vecchio,

We have not prevented the flow of water or caused stagnant water. Rather we have prevented standing water and facilitated the flow of water from one property to the next. The water flows better than before, therefore we have not made the problem worse or created it. If we fill in the rain garden the problems that you think we caused will come back and then we’ll get in trouble for that. The evidence is in the document I sent you on July 31. Here it is again:

http://www.chasenfratz.com/wp/drainage-problems-are-bringing-tom-and-i-to-court/

If you have not done so, please read it, look at the pictures and watch the videos. Then you will understand what is going on. Then please send me the rules I am violating. It’s not in the Land Disturbance Document. There is nothing in there that says you can’t have a rain garden, there is nothing in there that says you can’t fix existing problems with standing water and there is nothing in there that says you can’t make the water flow better and stop puddling in the neighbor’s yard. It does not say you can’t capture your runoff to keep it from going on your neighbor’s driveway so it doesn’t buckle like ours did. What you are saying we did is what it was like BEFORE we started fixing it.

If you send me the email of your supervisor I will send him a link to it also. I got his name from someone else at the county and I have his phone number. I can’t call him now because I am at work. I have contacted him on Facebook and LinkedIn in the meantime. I will call him Monday if needed. We are not willing to go back to having a wet basement and the house falling in. There are cracks upstairs that have not gotten worse since we fixed the drainage problems. We put a piece of tape at the end of one of the cracks to check. We care a lot about keeping our house erect and intact and we like the dry basement. I don’t think it’s legal to occupy a house falling in either. We would be negligent if we did not fix it.

Thank you very much,
Carolyn Hasenfratz Winkelmann

 

This is the site of the future pond. I've been filling it in with mulch between rains until we get it done. This makes more work for us and makes it take longer to get done, but it's what we have to do. Does every construction site in St. Louis County have to fill in every puddle between rains, even if they dry up in a day or two? This photo was taken on August 25, about 24 hours ago. It's rained three times since then. If it's not dry right now, about an hour after the rain stopped, should we have to go to court again? What do you think?
This is the site of the future pond. I’ve been filling it in with mulch between rains until we get it done. This makes more work for us and makes it take longer to get done, but it’s what we have to do. Does every construction site in St. Louis County have to fill in every puddle between rains, even if they dry up in a day or two? This photo was taken on August 25, about 24 hours ago. It’s rained three times since then. If it’s not dry right now, about an hour after the rain stopped, should we have to go to court again? What do you think?

August 26th, 2019, John L. Geiler to me

Mrs. Winkelmann,

I have contacted the County prosecutors and we will refrain from pressing charges at this time. The ordinance number that you have not been looking at is:

SLCRO 1110.507.1 General. Drainage of roofs, paved areas, yards and courts, and other open areas on the premises shall not be modified or altered to discharge in a manner that creates a public nuisance.

Should a complaint come in about a public nuisance created by the ditches you’ve dug in your husband’s yard we will be required by law to re-issue the NOV and seek compliance. If you want to create a “rain garden” at some time in the future, and the necessary changes involved with that process are in violation of County ordinances, you will need to seek a special use permit or a zoning variance. Those actions can be taken by visiting the Public Works office in Clayton and presenting plans for your installation.

John L. Geiler
Assistant Chief Residential Inspector
St. Louis County Public Works
Code Enforcement
(314) 615-4191


August 26th, 2019, Me to John L. Geiler

Hi, thank you very much for your reply. I read the ordinance many times. The neighbor’s yard has drained completely every time it rains since May 3. (my edit – that’s the day after her complaint and therefore the day I started checking after each and every rain). Her yard used to collect water as ours did BEFORE I did anything. She told me the reason she complained is that she thought it was ugly. I will concede that most construction sites are ugly when they are in progress.

She is the one who caused a nuisance for US. It’s actually the other way around according to the law you cited. This blog post will explain. I couldn’t get Anthony to look at it as far as I know. Mike looked at it and he understood it. That’s why the charges were dismissed.

http://www.chasenfratz.com/wp/drainage-problems-are-bringing-tom-and-i-to-court/

I’m sure you are very busy today with the flash floods and all. Please look at it when you have time. If someone would just read it and look at the pictures and watch the videos they would understand the situation. At any time you are welcome to make an appt. with me and I’ll show you around personally.

I hope someone is addressing my complaint about her pipes discharging water into our yard and contributing to the destruction of the foundation of our house. There are two that are closer than 10 feet.

Thank you,
Carolyn


Here are some pictures of cracks in our bedroom that the engineer we hired told us were caused by the foundation shifting from bad drainage. We put that piece of tape on one of them last winter to see if our rainscaping had halted the damage or not. No movement since!
Here are some pictures of cracks in our bedroom that the engineer we hired told us were caused by the foundation shifting from bad drainage. We put that piece of tape on one of them last winter to see if our rainscaping had halted the damage or not. No movement since! These photos were taken on 08/25/19.

Total time I’ve spent up to this point on our defense: 27.81 hours

MSD’s Project Clear and Our Local Water Issues

The Metropolitan Sewer District has been working hard on outreach to inform the public about Project Clear. In their own words, Project Clear is the “planning, design and construction of MSD’s initiative to improve water quality and alleviate many wastewater concerns in the St. Louis region.” MSD operates in both St. Louis City and County.

What are some examples of wastewater concerns in our region? Flooding, erosion, water pollution and sewer backups are some issues that affect many of our neighbors if not ourselves. MSD deals with both stormwater, which is intended to discharge directly into the natural environment, and wastewater, which needs to be treated at a wastewater treatment plant before release. MSD is undertaking large scale projects right now that are estimated to take 23 years to complete.

Read more on the Schnarr’s blog: schnarrsblog.com

Fit and Healthy on Route 66: Two Sections of the Lower Meramec – Part II

Points of interest on the Lower Meramec River
Points of interest on the Lower Meramec River

It was only a few days after my participation in Operation Clean Stream on the Meramec River that a fellow member of the St. Louis Adventure Group Meetup suggested a float from Sunset Hills to Arnold. Kelly was trying to experience some sections of the Meramec that he had not yet floated and I’d never been on that stretch either so I agreed to join him on September 2, the Friday before Labor Day.

This part of the Meramec would not be everyone’s idea of a great place to paddle because it doesn’t have the fast-moving crystal clear water that many of our Missouri streams are known for but I enjoy large rivers and bodies of water that require a lot of paddling. I don’t mind semi-urbanized areas because I enjoy exploring around bridges and other large scary structures. When I was a kid, on occasions when my Dad would take us boating on Lake of the Ozarks or Table Rock Lake, if he piloted the boat too close to a dam or bridge I would scream and cry. I don’t scream and cry if I get close to a bridge now but I do get a weird kind of thrill from it. I probably would scream and cry if I got too close to a dam – even the little tiny one at Creve Coeur Lake gives me a queasy feeling!

Kelly’s plan was to meet at what would be our takeout point, Arnold City Park, where his neighbor would meet us to kindly help us with our shuttle. Our put-in point was at Minnie Ha Ha Park in Sunset Hills, a 10 mile float by river but only a 10 minute drive from one point to the other. This route is a very efficient way to get in a lot of paddling for a small expenditure of driving time.

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On the left is Kelly with our boats at Minnie Ha Ha Park. Since it was a weekday and the holiday weekend had not started yet there were a few people fishing but not much traffic on the river – most of the time we had it to ourselves with only fish, turtles and birds for company. The picture on the right is of George Winter Park, located where the river bulges out in a strange manner as you can see from the map at the top of this article. Kelly explained that much sand and gravel has been and is being mined from the vicinity causing lake-like sections that are a lot of fun to explore.

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A few times during the day we pulled onto a gravel bar to stretch our legs a bit or eat lunch. There are banks that are too steep or muddy to climb out of the vessel but also plenty of gravel bars that are just right. The picture on the right shows the Hwy. 21 bridge in the distance. This section was toward the end of our float and we’d been paddling against the wind for quite awhile so a little time to sit back and drift while taking pictures was welcome.

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This last pair of photos shows the remains of the boat ramp at Arnold City Park on the left and the Lemay Ferry Rd. and Hwy. 55 bridges on the right (the Hwy. 55 bridge is the one in the distance). Flood damage has rendered this boat ramp pretty useless to all but small watercraft like ours. If you can’t hand-carry your boat down to the water look for another boat ramp to use. The rocky shoreline was not that easy to disembark from either, I did it without falling on my butt but it was close. My footwear for the day was imitation Crocs – something sturdier would have been safer for scrambling around on the rocks and debris.

Our float took about five hours including a stop for lunch and maybe an extra hour and a half or so for shuttling, loading and unloading. We could have added more padding miles by more thoroughly exploring all the little coves and inlets but we only did a few. If you float this section, a map would be a good idea because the geography can be confusing. There is not a lot of shade along the way so make sure you have plenty of sunscreen! Watch out for jumping Asian carp – I don’t know if there is anything you can do about them but be aware just in case. None hit me or jumped in my boat but a group splashed me pretty good and put a momentary scare into me! The myriad of parks along the Meramec are worth exploring on foot and by bicycle. The natural flood cycle of a river can take things away but it also gives by making some land suitable for recreation rather than development. Enjoy!

Fit and Healthy on Route 66 – Rogers Parkway to Memorial Park

This article was originally published on June 30, 2012 and has been retrieved via the Wayback Machine.

Trailhead for Rogers Parkway, Brentwood, Missouri

If you’re traveling on the Manchester alignment of Route 66 through St. Louis County and are in the mood for a short, easy bike ride or a walk for you or a canine companion, try the Rogers Parkway in Brentwood, Missouri. Brentwood is a small city but has a lot of little parks, most with water, some with restrooms. You’ll pass through several during the route I’m about to describe. You won’t see anything spectacular, but you’ll enjoy charming older suburban neighborhoods with large trees and pleasant shade. The trail is pet-friendly with plastic bag dispensers for waste and a water fountain with a basin at dog’s height. If you don’t know the area well you’ll want to download and print out this map to take with you.

If you’re traveling west on Manchester, start looking for the trailhead shortly after you cross over Hanley Road. The trailhead will be on the right, in between American Locksmiths and Brentwood Place Apartments. You’ll find an asphalt trail heading north that takes you to Broughton Park. Follow the trail until you reach Swim Club Road, where you’ll cross over to the other side of the street.

Intersection of Trails

Continue until you get to an intersection of asphalt trails. Turn right, and you’ll pass some handball, tennis, and volleyball courts. This is Hanley Park. You’ll see some signs along the way suggesting different fitness exercises that you can do if you like. The trail splits in two, and the more interesting route is to the right. You’ll cross a creek and follow along it for awhile on the Lee Wynn Trail until you get to Oak Tree Park. If you feel like doing some hill climbing, you can continue past the park and up a ridge to explore the streets a bit. If you’re not in the mood for climbing a hill, head back the way you came until you get past Hanley Park and back to the intersection. You can turn left here and get back on the Rogers Parkway, or you can turn right and continue for a short distance into Memorial Park. If  you’re hungry or thirsty, there is usually a snack stand set up here. If you care to head toward the huge American flag toward the northeast, you’ll come across a large shopping center that has a Trader Joe’s and a Target, both places where you can pick up some items for a picnic lunch. (If you turn right at the huge flag and continue for a few blocks, you’ll see some light rail tracks – turn left and there is the Brentwood I-64 Metrolink station if you want to explore more of the St. Louis area – bring your bike on board). If you don’t want anything from the shopping center, I recommend turning around in Memorial Park and heading back the way you came at this point – you’re roughly 2/3 of the way through the entire route if you’ve taken no detours.

If you’re on foot, you’re probably satisfied with the length of your excursion, but if you want a little more, you’ll notice some dirt trails on the right as you head back. Explore the small wooded area if you like.

If you’re on a bike, you might want to extend your ride considerably. If so, I recommend looking for Eulalie Ave. (this is the spot where you crossed the road previously upon reaching Swim Club Road) on the way back. It’s a little confusing because if you look left, the road is called Dorothy and if you look right, the sign is missing. Nevertheless, take a right turn and you’ll come to an intersection with Brentwood Blvd. Use the light and cross Brentwood Blvd. here with care – it’s very busy and the drivers are not necessarily attentive to cyclists or pedestrians.

Once you’ve crossed Brentwood Blvd., continue west on what is now Litzinger Rd. Look for four Lustron houses on your left. Continue for several blocks on Litzinger until you get to Tilles Park, a large park in the city of Ladue with a nice trail, more fitness stations, water, restrooms and more. There is a small lake with a shelter if you’ve brought a picnic lunch. Go around the park as many times as you like, then head back to Brentwood Blvd. on Litzinger and cross back over. Make a right when you reach Rogers Parkway and you’ll be back to the trailhead shortly.

Fit and Healthy on Route 66 – Castlewood State Park

Castlewood State Park in St. Louis County, Missouri
View from bluff at Castlewood State Park in two different seasons

Castlewood State Park is located along the Meramec River in the southwest portion of St. Louis County between the Manchester and I-44 alignments of Route 66. Parts of the park lay on either side of the Meramec River. The part that lies north of the Meramec River is accessible by car south of the Manchester alignment of Route 66 and includes one of the most scenic views in all of St. Louis County. The photos above were taken from the River Scene Trail.

In the days before air conditioning, one way people used to cope with the heat was by visiting swimming beaches at the numerous rivers in the region. Caves were popular too. Route 66 fans will recognize the names of the fun places “Times Beach”, “Sylvan Beach”, Meramec Caverns”, “Stonydell” and Joplin’s “Lakeside Park”. Fort Bellefontaine County Park was formerly such a destination – the area that is now Castlewood State Park was another.

According to the book “Walks & Rambles in and around St. Louis” by Robert Rubright, the heyday of Castlewood as a resort was from 1915-1950. The swimming beach was washed away by the river in 1945. Some other amenities such as clubhouses, nightclubs and taverns persisted a bit longer. The state of Missouri converted the land to a park in 1979. Signs at the park indicate that while swimming in the Meramec River is not forbidden, it’s not encouraged either and is something to undertake at one’s own risk. Drownings do occur here so be careful.

The River Scene trail is so nice that I have explored very few other areas of the park despite many visits. I need to correct that oversight! There is a steep climb to the top of the bluff but after that the trail is not too difficult because it is mostly flat or downhill. You will have to watch your footing because the trail is rocky in spots and it’s possible to trip on tree roots. Sturdy hiking boots and a walking stick are helpful for safety and comfort. There are multiple scenic overlooks, historic ruins from the resort days and a well-traveled railroad corridor to see along the way. Rail fans will normally get a chance to see a train or two while hiking here and a portion of the trail even goes under the railroad bed in a cool tunnel.

Map of Castlewood State Park in St. Louis County, Missouri

As you can see from this map, the portion of the park that is South of the Meramec River is accessible only by hiking, biking or by horseback. You can take a trail to Castlewood from either West Tyson County Park or Lone Elk County Park.

It’s not shown on this map how it connects but if you take the Stinging Nettle Loop at the base of the bluff, you can follow that trail westward to a portion of the Meramec Greenway, Sherman Beach County Park and the Al Foster Trail which begins in Glencoe. You can also take a side trip on the Rock Hollow Trail, also known as the “Zombie Road”. The Stinging Nettle Loop is great for mountain bikers like me who are pretty much at the beginner level. There are some hills but they are not too high and if you fall you’ll probably land on dirt most of the time. I took a minor fall and didn’t get hurt. More challenging trails that I have not worked up to trying on a bike yet are in the area if you’re up for it. If you are getting the impression that you can spend days or weeks here exploring all the trails that connect near here you are probably right! Bring maps because it can get confusing!

Castlewood State Park official web site

My photos of Castlewood State Park and the nearby Wildlife Rescue Center

Fit and Healthy on Route 66 – West Tyson County Park

View from the top of one of the ridges in West Tyson County Park
View from the top of one of the ridges in West Tyson County Park

The Interstate 44 / Historic Route 66 corridor southwest of the St. Louis, Missouri metro area is an embarrassment of riches for outdoor enthusiasts. Opportunities for bicycling, hiking, boating, camping, fishing, bird watching and many other outdoor activities are easily available to Route 66 enthusiasts who want to take a healthy break from driving a motorized vehicle. Route 66 State Park is a must-see for the Route 66 fan but there are abundant other interesting choices for outdoor recreation in the area, many with historic connections to Route 66. Route 66 State Park is a great choice for flat walking and biking trails. If you’re in the mood for some hills, take a look at West Tyson County Park. You’ll see the entrance to this park on the way to Route 66 State Park if you take the Lewis Road exit (#266) off of Interstate 44.

Trail at West Tyson County ParkLast weekend I parked at the trailhead for the Flint Quarry Trail loop and started my hike. It was supposed to be about three miles, but there are lots of connector trails to other trails and other parks in the area and I was on another trail for some of the time and ended up hiking just under five miles. All the connectors make this trail kind of confusing, so be sure to have a map with you when you set out. Some of the twists and turns on this trail are extreme which makes it pretty easy to see where you are on the map. Without a map I would have felt apprehensive and it’s possible I would have gotten lost. While the trail is hilly and rocky, the switchbacks are really well done and the climbs tend to be broken up into short segments so I didn’t find it overly strenuous. Besides a map and your normal hiking safety gear, I recommend at least two bottles of water – more if you have room, in case you get off the trail – hiking boots with ankle support and a walking stick to make this hike comfortable and safe. The trails in this area are used by mountain bikers and horseback riders, so be alert and give them room to pass.

The main natural attractions on this trail are scenic views from the ridge tops, beautiful forest and intriguing rocky outcrops which were once mined by Native Americans to make stone tools. If you’re into the hobby of letterboxing, there are some man-made attractions here too for you to try to find. I searched for four letterboxes during my hike and actually found one. That’s typical of my usual ratio I must admit!

Tyson Valley Park Henry Shaw GardenwayOn the restroom / shower building at the trailhead is mounted this commemorative plaque which marks the transfer of ownership of a portion of the park land from the Federal government to St. Louis County. Like many parks in the St. Louis area, West Tyson’s history includes military use in WWII. The tract known as Tyson Valley Park was reclaimed by the U.S. Military in 1951 for use in the Korean War effort and repurchased by St. Louis County in 1963. The article “The Tyson Valley Area” by Conor Watkins helps explain who owned what when and is a great overview of the history and recreational opportunities in the area surrounding West Tyson.

The Henry Shaw Gardenway has its origin in the founding of the Missouri Botanical Garden Arboretum, popularly known as “Shaw’s Arboretum” as the garden itself is popularly known as “Shaw’s Garden”. In 1923 Missouri Botanical Garden purchased land in Gray Summit, MO to house plants that were in danger from St. Louis city pollution. In 2000, this land was renamed “Shaw Nature Reserve” and is a great place to hike and view nature.

In 1935, a portion of Route 66 from the St. Louis city limits to the arboretum in Gray Summit was dedicated as the Henry Shaw Gardenway. The well-known Route 66 landmark Jensen’s Point in Pacific was named after Lars Peter Jensen, president of the Henry Shaw Gardenway Association. It’s difficult to find much more information about the Henry Shaw Gardenway other than it existed and another remnant, a stone bus stop, is now located in the Shaw Nature Reserve. The CCC participated in highway beautification programs throughout the country in the 1930’s and the Henry Shaw Gardenway was one of the roads enhanced by their efforts. Blackburn Park in Pacific is another landmark extant on the Gardenway that I know of. It’s an intriguing part of Route 66 history that I want to know more about.

The Henry Shaw Ozark Gardenway was/is a modern-era organization with the mission of preserving the Ozark foothills along Interstate 44 and promoting maintenance and expansion of the Ozark Corridor series of parks. Their web site is not currently functioning and I don’t know if it’s still in existence. There is a great map of natural resources along the corridor here – Henry Shaw Ozark Corridor.

New Recycling Guide for St. Louis County, Missouri

recycling_guide_web_graphic

For the last several months I’ve been working part time at Schnarr’s Hardware in Ladue, MO. Part of the work I do there is helping with marketing. In order to attract potential customers to our web site and social media outlets, I wrote up a Recycling Guide and created the graphic above to make links to it easier to share in social media. I also made a short url and QR code for those on the go or who only see the graphic and can’t click it.

This project is an example of content marketing. Content marketing is a way to build a relationship with potential customers by providing information that is relevant to them. I tried to make the content of the Recycling Guide relevant by including information on how to recycle items we sell in the store or items that are closely related.

Content marketing can be effective when other forms of advertising are getting overlooked. If you think about what your customers need to make their lives easier it can help you think of ideas for content marketing.