After 13 years of flooding, Carmel couple says city hasn’t done enough

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By Ann Marie Shambaugh

Update: After reading about the flooding, an oncologist friend of Van Ostrand’s contacted her and told her it is not safe for Fakehany to be in the home at all because of the likelihood that mold is growing in the basement. A church in Lawrence reached out to the family and offered to let them stay in a home used as an office for the next month while they search for a long term solution. They plan to move there until it is safe enough for them to move back home or until another solution is found.

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When Derek Fakehany and Amy Van Ostrand bought their historic home at on 1st Avenue SE in 2000, they couldn’t have been happier.

“For the first three years that we lived in the house, we felt that it was our dream home,” Van Ostrand said. “We put a lot of TLC into it. We have been responsible stewards of the historic home.”

Three years later that dream turned into a nightmare when six feet of water flooded into their basement after a heavy rainstorm. Told by city officials that the storm was a “100-year flooding event” and not likely to happen again anytime soon, the couple thought the problem was behind them.

They were wrong.

Now, 13 years after that first flood, the basement has experienced severe flooding at least 12 times, Van Ostrand said, most recently in December 2015. And to make matters worse, in January Fakehany was diagnosed with a blood cancer, with treatments leaving his immune system severely compromised and making him more susceptible to diseases caused by water damage-related mold. A bone marrow transplant is planned in the coming months, and the couple is concerned about where Fakehany will recover if he can’t go home.

“Instead of being able to focus on oncology appointments and time with us, (Derek) is having to frantically worry about me and his ability to even be in our home,” Van Ostrand said. “I’m having to make the Hobsons’s choice routinely of whether to go with him to appointments or stay and babysit our basement. That is disgraceful. We should not be having to make that choice.”

Carmel City Engineer Jeremy Kashman, who has worked for the city since 2014, said he only became aware of the problem when the family reached out following a rainstorm in July 2015. He then initiated a study on drainage in the area.

“We found that the drainage was a little bit different than we had first thought,” he said, adding that the city does not have records on some of its oldest pipes.

The study showed that a pipe flows directly beneath Van Ostrand and Fakehany’s garage, which would not be allowed by modern standards. A camera inserted into the pipe showed that it had collapsed farther downstream, still conveying water but not as efficiently as it should. Engineers considered the options and decided replacement of pipes in the area was necessary.

The city opened bids for the project – which would rebuild pipes along Fifth Street, First Avenue and Fourth Street and connect to existing infrastructure west of Range Line Road – at the April Board of Public Works and Safety meeting. Kashman said the bid should be awarded in early May, with construction beginning by early June at the latest and wrapping up by fall.

“It will not solve all of (Van Ostrand and Fakehany’s) problems, because their home is still low,” Kashman said. “What we’re doing is making sure all the city’s conveyance systems away from their home are current.”

The city recently installed a drain and extended downspouts in Fakehany and Van Ostrand’s yard, which came as a surprise to both of them. Van Ostrand had to quickly move her husband to a hotel to avoid being around construction dust with his compromised immune system. Kashman said the city has also suggested additional steps for the couple to take to alleviate the problem, but Van Ostrand said those options have not been feasible.

Van Ostrand and Fakehany, however, feel that they have already done everything they can to stop the flooding. They have met with landscaping and drainage experts, installed four sump pumps, added French drains in the yard, tarred foundation walls and purchased flood insurance, much to the surprise of the insurance agent who saw they didn’t live near a body of water or in a floodplain. The couple said they’ve been in frequent contact with city officials about the flooding since 2003 and estimates they have spent approximately $30,000 out of their own pocket.

Others who live in the area have also experienced flooding in recent years, and say they, too, have been left in the dark about the city’s plans to address the problem. Don Hollingsworth lives nearby and said the flooding became a problem as dense development sprung up near the neighborhood, including the Carmeltown condos.

“I have no idea what (the city is) going to do,” Hollingsworth said. “A lot of the water that goes down there to Derek’s property comes from those condos. It’s just like a river, and it goes west.”

Fakehany and Van Ostrand said their basement never flooded prior to 2003, and the previous homeowner told them it was never a problem during her 20 years in the home. Kashman said he can’t pinpoint the exact cause of the recent flooding.

“Without really seeing a sinkhole form or cameraing all the storm systems on a regular basis, you don’t really know when something like that would happen,” he said.

Van Ostrand, an attorney who specializes in wrongful death and personal injury litigation, said she and Fakehany have done everything they can to avoid a conflict with the city. Feeling trapped in a home they can’t sell with few options left, in January she sent the city a tort claim notice, which outlines her grounds for filing a lawsuit. She has a lawsuit ready but is hoping not to file it. Whether or not she does will depend on if the city takes any significant steps to fix the problem in the very near future, she said.

“I have no interest in receiving any sort of settlement from the city. I simply want them to fix the problem,” she said. “If they will simply fix the problem, we will not pursue any damages against them, because what’s done is done. My husband is extremely sick and I need to focus on my family.”

BY THE NUMBERS

Since 2003:  

  • 4 number of times the furnace has been rebuilt (and replaced one time)
  • 7 number of times the water heater has been replaced
  • 2,000 gallons of water per hour the family’s four sump pumps remove
  • $27,417 spent on repairs, flood insurance premiums and waterproofing
  • $33,000 in wages lost taking time off work to deal with flood issues

Source: Derek & Amy Van Ostrand-Fakehany Tort Claim Notice

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