Sinkhole Swallowing Parking Lot (And CU's Good Name)

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The mere mention of the collapsed drain pipe in a parking lot shared by 1st CU and US Bank leaves Julie Green with a sinking feeling.

Not only will the $20-million CU split the repair costs of more than $500,000 for a drain that doesn't even serve its facility, it has been the target of bad publicity since the crater first appeared last May.

"It's on our property, but the drain pipe is a benefit to upstream landowners," Green said of the hole that continues to grow with each bout of wet weather. Last fall, city officials said it measured 50 feet wide, 125 feet long and 12 feet deep. "Oh, it's much deeper than that now," Green said. "I would say it's about 20 feet deep and the damage is now encroaching more on the bank side."

The hole was created when a culvert installed beneath the parking lot in the mid-1930s rusted and caved in. Green said when the CU discovered the problem, it sent notices to 13 property owners that live upstream, asking them to contribute to repair costs since it's their water that drains into this pipe.

"All of them replied with a no," Green said, adding the CU officials were baffled by the rejection of property owners to do the right thing and frustrated that the credit union would have to cover so much cost for repairs to something that doesn't even serve their building.

Unfortunately, US Bank-"which was benevolent that it would fix this and share the cost," Green said-publicly accused the CU of "stalling," thus hurting its business.

Newspaper articles painted a glowing picture of the bank's efforts, saying that it was willing to pay the majority of the costs even though most of the damage was on the CU side.

Green accused the articles of being biased-"I think the bank has a big account with the local newspaper," she said-and stopped granting interviews to the local press, she said.

Her side of the story was that bank officials initially wanted the credit union to share in the costs for the damages in the parking lot between their buildings as well as unrelated damages to a property nearby. "We're a small credit union," she said. "We just can't do that."

Green said CU officials were just as concerned as bank officials about getting the damages fixed. "There was just a difference of opinion in who should pay for it," she said. Unfortunately, trying to sort that out has been time-consuming.

When property owners refused to pitch in, the CU's legal team asked city officials to step in. "The city has not worked with us at all," Green said, noting that officials could have created a water benefit district and imposed fees for the drain's repair on those who benefit.

City officials reportedly told local media that they had no direct interest in the matter because it was on private property and posed no risk to public safety.

Green said CU officials were still deciding if they would pursue legal action against the property owners upstream. They have, however, signed an agreement with the bank to pay for the repairs. Construction likely won't start until the weather warms up, probably sometime in March. The repairs are expected to take 60 to 90 days.

"Right now, we just want it fixed," Green said. The branch at St. Joseph is one of three locations for the CU that serves postal employees and two communities. Until the sinkhole appeared, she said, the CU and bank had been good neighbors.

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