HOMER — Looking out a kitchen window Friday, Ellen and Mike Batzer’s backyard at 5988 Route 11, was a pond.
The Batzers worried about keeping their 17-month-old twins, Lilianna and Georgia from using the backyard. Water lapped 3 feet from the base of their patio, and the twin tot-sized pink chairs were off limits.
And a county Health Department sanitarian dropped by to warn them not to drink their tapwater.
The Batzers blame the flooding on a neighbor’s retention pond and faulty drainage system, but town and county officials say there is nothing they can do.
County Environmental Health Director Mike Ryan directed sanitarians on Friday to visit the neighborhood because he had taken a trip out there himself and saw the water rising close to wellheads. He warned residents not to drink their water without purifying it first.
“If the whole well, including the cap, is submerged, water could run down in from the surface and whatever happens to be in that water could run into that and contaminate the water supply,” he said. Bacteria could infiltrate, especially if animals are upstream of the well.
The problem has affected the neighborhood, not just the Batzers’ yard.
Howard Recor, who lives at 5994 Route 11, said the property just north of Little York Crossing frequently flooded, but it was never this bad until neighbor Elizabeth Metzger installed a retention pond years ago and put in a drainage pipe that sits above the water line, not draining it.
That, neighbors claim, has in effect created a dam, as water that used to drain into a southern field now sits for days and sometimes weeks.
Scott Magee, who has lived at 6012 Route 11 for 14 years, said he expects last week’s rainfall — which caused minor flooding along the Tioughnioga River — means he’ll need to wait about a month before his backyard is dry enough for his children to use it.
“We call it our lake,” he said.
Metzger, who owns Mountainside Outdoor Supply Center at 5972 Route 11, where the retention pond was installed, declined to comment beyond saying she did the work 15 years ago and was within her legal right to do so.
“We have an attorney and if they decide to move forward he is prepared to deal with it,” she said. She declined to name her lawyer.
Homer Supervisor Fred Forbes feels badly about it, but told the 10 residents who brought the issue to the Town Board last year that his hands are tied.
“I felt bad, but when the Town Council tells me not to get involved that’s what I have to do,” Forbes said.
The town had no authority, Town Attorney Pat Snyder said. “The town doesn’t have the right to go on private property to spend money to fix flooding problems that are basically disputes between neighbors,” he said.
Snyder said it has become a civil matter. People who want to put a pond on their property have the right to do so. The state Department of Environmental Conservation issues permits for dams but not ponds, he said.
The DEC regulates construction activities that disturb one or more acre of soil, in which case a construction stormwater permit is required.
The Batzers and their neighbors said everyone they talked to, the county Soil and Water Conservation District and town officials, all pointed them to legal recourse. However, the neighbors say they do not have the time, money or wherewithal to devote to lawyers.
“We are kind of looking for help,” agrees Magee. “What can we do? We don’t want to get an attorney and find out there’s nothing we can do.”