Road repair proving uphill battle

Every time Carol Schoening wants to leave her house, she must carefully reverse her car 300 feet up her road, inch by inch. She has no choice: two-thirds of Marburger Road is washed out, and the city says the street is not its responsibility to fix.

After living with this situation for more than two years, the Schoenings and three other property owners on Marburger Road in the Belmont hills have filed a claim against the city in an attempt to finally repair the road that washed out in a landslide in 2005. Heavy rains in January of this year have worsened road conditions, Schoening said, and a section of it has been reduced from a width of 30 feet to 10.

Though the road is unquestionably within city limits, a 1927 agreement incorporating the street into the jurisdiction included a caveat that the city would be absolved from maintaining the road, Schoening said. More than 80 years later, Belmont says it still is exonerated.

City Attorney Marc Zafferano said there are “a lot of legal issues associated with who is responsible for maintaining the road.” He declined to elaborate on those issues.

“I don’t think it would help the problem to air all of the differences between the parties in the press,” he said.

In 2006, the city received a $52,000 federal grant to fix the damaged road, but they returned that money, Zafferano confirmed. Jeff Marshall, one of the residents who filed the claim against the city, said he was told the city returned the money because it would imply responsibility for maintaining Marburger Road.

Zafferano countered by saying the city sent the money back because the city’s geotechnical engineers said the fix proposed at the time would have caused more damage to the street.

The residents blame the washout on drainage and sewage leak problems on the street above them — problems the city has also declined to fix, they say.

Zafferano declined to comment on those allegations, again stating that “back-and-forth” discussion in the press would not solve the problem.

If the current negotiations with the city fall through, the four families will have to decide whether to take their claim to court, which is not a cheap prospect, Marshall said. They’ve already invested $40,000 in the battle with the city, and going to court could cost $150,000 more, he said.

kworth@examiner.com

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