Charles County neighbors battle over sink hole responsibility

In Southern Maryland, the weight of a serious infrastructure issue is literally sinking-in for multiple homeowners. Residents in Charles County have been battling county officials who is responsible for repairs to a faulty storm drainage system that homeowners say is causing dangerous sink holes to form on their Maxwell Drive properties.  

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"It’s frustrating. We feel like we’re not heard. Recently we’ve even reached out to Congressman Hoyer’s office," said Theresa Deminne, who has been leading the way on this issue.

Deminne tells FOX 5 she has been dealing with sinkholes for almost two decades but that the issue got significantly worse after heavy rains in August of 2020. She now says there are valid safety concerns if emergency vehicles cannot access their driveway due to two sinkholes there – one covering her driveway and one just next to it.

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Nearby, another sinkhole appears be as deep as the deep end of an in-ground pool. That same sinkhole also swallowed a tree.

Deminne told FOX 5 she’s paid thousands of dollars repairing the sinkholes over the years but started to press the county for assistance more recently. She claims its county road and parkland storm run-off that clogs the drainage system when it rains. She also believes the county-owned road may be starting to buckle from the issue. Deminne said the drainage pipes run under her property and under county-owned roadways.

The Hughesville homeowner told FOX 5 Maxwell Hall’s developers had to install the drainage system when they built the community back in the 1980s.

A county inspection Deminne shared video of, shows possible pipe corrosion that she believes is taking-in or washing away the soil from their properties, causing the repeated sinkholes.

When the homeowner tried to file a claim with her own title insurance company, she said she was told there was nothing they could do after an attorney discovered documentation that said the developer had deeded the road to the county, which would include the storm water infrastructure.

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However, in several back-and-forth emails, county officials claim there is no evidence of the county accepting that deed, therefore placing responsibility on the developer … or the homeowners.

Deminne told FOX 5, "The developers from 1986 are either passed away or totally unavailable due to age."

"It’s compromising their roadways, it’s compromising our properties. And they’re not taking any action at all even to stabilize or mitigate the risk here. And it’s putting our property at risk, our lives at risk the road at risk and I just don’t understand why they keep turning a blind eye to the fact that that road continues to dip," she added.

A spokesperson with the county told FOX 5 the homeowners could petition to have the county take-over and repair the system, but the homeowners would still be charged for those repairs. FOX 5 has asked for, but did not yet receive an estimated price.

In a full statement to FOX 5, Charles County Spokesperson Jennifer L. Harris wrote:

The County understands the challenges and frustration that Ms. Deminne and so many other residents throughout our community are experiencing as more frequent, substantial storms are resulting in flooding-related impacts like those on Maxwell Drive.

County staff have done a thorough review of all land records related to the Maxwell Hall Subdivision Section 2. Land records confirm the stormwater management system is not owned by the county and therefore, is not financially responsible for the infrastructure or resolving the issues that have been raised.

Like many other jurisdictions, Charles County is concerned about the capacity of stormwater infrastructure that was not designed to handle the long-term effects of flooding related to climate change. This afternoon, County Administrator Mark Belton requested that the Board of County Commissioners authorize Charles County Government to gradually begin prioritizing and acquiring ownership of many privately-owned stormwater management systems. The county is developing a fiscally responsible approach through a combination of federal funds, grants, budget surplus and debt service, that will be leveraged for the implementation of a sustainable, long-term solution to stormwater infrastructure challenges.

The move to begin acquiring privately-owned stormwater management systems does not guarantee Deminne and her neighbors will get assistance.

Deminne said the homeowners are also very concerned this issue will sink their property values.  She argues that the county at least owns any portion of drainage pipe under their roadways and should bear some responsibility.