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When city construction disrupts sprinklers, who should pay?

Woodbury City Council members considered the city's standing laws governing responsibility for repairs to in-ground sprinkler systems. (Staff photo by Riham Feshir)

Let’s say roads are getting redone in a neighborhood. Who foots the bill for a new sprinkler system if it needs replacing?

If it’s in the right-of-way, the homeowner pays for it, according to a city of Woodbury ordinance that council members have recently discussed when the question came up during road rehabilitation talks.

Council Member Paul Rebholz said he didn’t agree with the language in the ordinance. If it’s the city’s decision to redo the street and is asking homeowners to help pay for the costs, he suggested the city should maybe consider paying for irrigation systems.

“Times and conditions change,” Rebholz said. “We amend policies and ordinances on a fairly regular basis because things change.”

According to the ordinance: “No compensation shall be provided for any irrigation system, underground pet fences or other similar property owner improvements if removal is required or if it is damaged by any city, county, or permitted work within the right-of-way.”

Sprinkler systems can cost $200 to $300. Often times, they’re close to the roads and in the event the city narrows a street and adds on to the green space, they’re affected.

“If I didn’t want to pay for that and I didn’t want it moved, I’d probably be miffed,” Rebholz said.

The discussion came up during talks of rehabbing Evergreen and Whispering Pines streets, which will be narrowed this summer.

Since a number of other Woodbury streets have already been reconstructed over the past few years and homeowners abided by the ordinance, Council Member Amy Scoggins said she’s OK with the status quo because it’s not fair to the people who’ve already had to replace their systems over the years, and it doesn’t hurt to stay consistent.

“I don’t get the sense that a lot of people are upset by it,” she said.

City engineers see this as a bigger policy question that governs how the city could be held accountable for any damage caused by regular public works maintenance.

Placement of irrigation systems also vary from neighbor to neighbor, said Public Works Director Klayton Eckles.

“We’re talking about a major, major departure from how we addressed this issue in the past,” he said.

City Council will make a decision on whether the whole ordinance will have to be amended regarding a single project or all projects that require narrowing the road.

Another workshop on the issue will take place once city staff is able to present additional data on funding and implications from changing the ordinance.

City Council Member Christopher Burns said though prior councils approved the ordinance that says placing things in the right-of-way lies at the homeowner’s risk, it’s a good idea to revisit city codes from time to time.

“I think to make a good and informed decision on this requires further conversation and process,” he said. “I also think we need to know the potential financial impact of making a change to our ordinance and related administrative policies.”

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.