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I need to fix my what?

Eric Levinson's driveway is undergoing repairs following work on his curb stop.1 / 2
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When Woodbury homeowner Eric Levinson noticed some water running off his driveway, he had no idea where it was coming from and didn't know it would cost him up to $6,500 to get the leak fixed.

It turns out it was the curb stop at the home located on Sommerset Road in Woodbury.

But what is a curb stop, where is it located and whose responsibility is it to fix it when it breaks?

Those are questions asked by some homeowners who had to deal with curb stop repairs this year for a number of reasons, including the inconsistent weather patterns of 2011.

"I didn't even know we had one, but having seen that we had one, it never occurred to me that it would be the homeowner's responsibility," Levinson said. "Because there is nothing to do to maintain it; it's all underground."

He contacted the city to inquire about the repairs and learned a Woodbury ordinance states curb stops are the homeowner's responsibility.

Generally speaking, every home has its own curb stop except townhouse developments in which connected units may share a single service.

A curb stop is actually the valve on the service line that is used to turn the water on and off to the home.

Main water distribution lines are located out in the street. Per city code, the service line begins at the connection to the main line and from there to the house is the responsibility of the homeowner. Part of that service line is the curb stop.

"Most people just don't think about the ownership piece of that service line as being theirs," said utility supervisor Dan Hansen. "I think the assumption is that the city is going to provide water to their house."

But under the current and longstanding policy, he added, the ownership of the service line, which is true for both water and sewer, is the responsibility of the property owners.

Generally curb stops don't fail -- this year, out of approximately 20,000 service connections, about 10 needed repairs, Hansen said.

But when they do break, curb stops must be fixed immediately because depending on the time of year and when they leak, there is a risk of substantial ice build up in the street.

Additionally, one of the major concerns is the risk of contamination to the public water supply; ground water may end up in the city's system causing water pollution.

"We're really concerned about the quality and protecting the quality of that distribution system so we put a high urgency on those repairs," Hansen said.

But Levinson wondered: if it's something that affects the entire system, why should he be the only one footing the bill to fix the problem?

What mostly frustrates him is the fact that there is no way to maintain the curb stop, which is covered by a little metal cap at the end of the driveway.

"The bottom line is, obviously if the city wanted to fix it and thought it needed to be fixed because of some water contamination issue, then it's not just our house, it's the whole street," Levinson said. "And if it's the street, I don't think we should be responsible for maintaining something that affects everyone on the street, not just us."

The problem irks all parties involved, especially when the cause of why curb stops break in the first place remains undetermined.

Hansen said he suspects it's got something do with the frost depth, but the department hasn't been able to come up with a precise cause.

"We don't see a problem with it until the leak starts. It's just hard to deal with," Hansen said.

Although Levinson said he has not agreed to be billed for fixing the leak, and at this point is still not planning on paying, a contractor was hired by the city to rip up part of the driveway and fix the valve. The final cost will be assessed to Levinson's property.

"If that's the rule, then that means anybody that lives in a house in Woodbury at any time can be hit with a bill for up to $6,500 for something that they had no awareness of or no ability to control," he said.

Through e-mail correspondence, Levinson learned City Council will discuss the ordinance at a future workshop. But whether or not it will be amended remains a question.

"The city is empathetic to the residents who find themselves in situations with service repairs. We understand that they're frustrated by a process that number one, costs a lot of money and number two, they're not familiar with," Hansen said.

Riham Feshir
Riham Feshir is a reporter and photographer for the Woodbury Bulletin. Her coverage includes Woodbury City Hall, Washington County Board of Commissioners and business news.  Follow Riham on Twitter @RihamFeshir for the latest updates.