Sugar Creek Mayor Mike Larson decided the city has waited long enough for the troublesome culvert off U.S. 24 to be fixed.
The culvert collapsed in 2012, causing a sinkhole that ultimately led to flooding issues in the area around the U.S. 24 and Northern Boulevard. One business on the Independence side of U.S. 24 next to the culvert, Fairmount Liquors, closed earlier this year after dealing with numerous floods over the past several years.
Larson said Friday that city contractors will start work Tuesday to clean out the sinkhole, and the city plans to have the property owner pay for it.
That owner, Mark Cosgrove of Best Buy Car Co., filled in the sinkhole with gravel and large rocks to prevent people from falling in and protect the water main. However, most people say the backed-up culvert caused the drainage plain in Independence to overflow. U.S. 24 marks the Independence-Sugar Creek border in that area. Cosgrove moved his used-car business, which also suffered flood damage, to a different site in northern Independence more than a year ago, but the culvert remained unfixed.
Larson said Sugar Creek attorneys were producing an emergency order to declare the area a health and safety nuisance, which would allow the city to remove debris without interference until water flowed normally through the culvert. The city is going through an eminent domain process for the property,
“I continue to emphasize the health and safety of citizens that drive through there on a daily basis, and the inconvenience it causes (during floods),” Larson said, adding that while it hasn’t happened yet, he’s crossing his fingers that an emergency vehicle doesn’t have to reroute due to flooding and those seconds mean life or death for someone.
“We are out of time. The rains are coming. In fact, they are already here,” he said in a release. “It is time to act before the south side of U.S. 24 begins to fill and eventually flood the intersection.”
Cosgrove’s attorney, Larry Schaffer, said he knew Sugar Creek planned to clean out the culvert area but didn’t know it planned to present repair costs to Cosgrove as a tax lien – a move he called “heavy handed.”
While Schaffer disagrees with Sugar Creek’s decision to clean out the culvert while the matter is in court – the Fairmount Liquors owner sued several entities on the matter, and trial remains scheduled for late this year – he wasn’t going to legally contest it and planned to document the excavation.
“I certainly don’t agree that it’s our responsibility to fix it, or to pay for it,” he said.
When the culvert was constructed more than a half-century ago, Cosgrove said a couple years ago, Sugar Creek used an old refinery smokestack for part of it. After the culvert had been filled in and flooding issues emerged several years ago, Independence officials checked and said the culvert was OK on its side. The Missouri Department of Transportation said the problem is just outside of its easement. Sugar Creek wanted Cosgrove to fix it, as it's on private property, and Cosgrove has said he shouldn't be responsible.
Last November, the city began issuing daily tickets to Cosgrove for creating an obstruction in a flood plain, but that process took too long, Larson said. From there, he sought federal agency advice. That ultimately led to the emergency order decision.
“I’ve lost track of how many emails I sent out to agencies,” Larson said.
Larson said work will take place entirely on the Sugar Creek side and shouldn’t disrupt traffic.