City’s water main break creates headaches and out of pocket expense for family

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OKLAHOMA CITY - Talk about a rude awakening on for Jeff Schmidt on New Year’s Day.

“I'm taking buckets and trying to get to the water main reading,” he said.

He initially thought it was his water line that busted, but after taking a closer look discovered it was actually the City of Oklahoma City's water main spewing buckets of water on his property.

“There was a sheet of ice,” he said. “You could see water here.”

Jeff says a city crew showed up the next day and got right to work, making repairs to the broken water main.

With each passing hour, the family watched more and more of their driveway and yard disappear and sprinkler heads caught in the cross fire.

Jeff says the city assured him they would foot the bill for all repairs on his property.

Workers poured the driveway, put down new dirt and grass, but skipped over those sprinkler heads.

Jeff hired out the repairs himself, paid the bill, and filed a damage claim with the city.

He said, “I don't understand why my claim was automatically denied.”

Jeff, who's got a second kid on the way, took his fight before city council.

City Attorney Tina Hughes recommended Jeff's claim be denied, since his sprinkler system encroaches into the utility easement, which gives the city a legal right to use part of Jeff's property to run their pipes.

“The city is not liable for that damage because our utility easement gives us a right to be there to use for the purpose we acquired it for without incurring any liability for that,” she said.

Here's what you need to know.

Your easement starts at the middle of the street and runs up to 30 feet in both directions. Yes, 30 feet which can be as much as 15 or 20 feet into your yard.

“They can run anywhere from 50 to 60 feet total across,” said OKC Public Utilities Spokesperson Jennifer McClintock.

She points out that a public utility is under no obligation to repair your private property, although there is a public interest to using taxpayer dollars to repair your driveway and sod.

That exception does not extend to sprinkler systems.

There was one more thing that Jeff brought to our attention.

“The sprinkler system was capped,” Jeff said.

He says someone, unbeknownst to him, capped his private water line without marking it, creating more headaches and out of pocket expense.

He assumed it was the city.

“Per our records, per the work orders that were put out, per the notes that were done after the incident when our crews went out to repairs, we do not show in any case that we capped those lines,” McClintock said.

Although she says the city subcontracted out the sidewalk and driveway repairs and it's possible that third party contractor did the capping.

McClintock said, “We're not liable for their work.”

Looks like Jeff is on the hook for all those repairs after all, although he can pursue legal action against that third party contractor.

Chances are slim he'll ever recoup a dime.

If you want to know where a utility easement runs on your property, call your utility company or call Okie and they'll come out, find your easements to make sure you don't have something that is impeding access to the easement.

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