At first glance, the home of Dan Strauss on Inman Circle in Mount Airy looks like a normal house, tucked away in a quiet neighborhood bordered by woods.
Yet when one ventures behind the structure it’s a different scene, one reminiscent of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina’s flooding or a mudslide in California.
A large pile of rip-rap (stones used to protect stream beds or shorelines) dominates the middle of a rear driveway, waiting to join large amounts of that material already placed at strategic points near the back of the house. Something else readily visible is wood chips scattered around the site to help stabilize the soil, bordered by railroad ties that sit precariously on the grounds.
Meanwhile, a tree that once sat level on the lawn has sunk beneath the surface.
But what is just as noticeable is something that’s not there: a large back yard that eroded away over the years, leaving a steep drop-off near the edge of the rear driveway.
“Don’t step off it,” Strauss warns a visitor standing on the pavement, expressing his concern that the ground might cave in and leave the visitor at the bottom of a deep ravine.
Strauss, a retired military member in his late 60s who shares the home with his wife Gitte, is afraid the persistent erosion problem hasn’t fully taken its toll.
“It is our fear that the entire house is going to sink away unless this matter is addressed,” he said during a Mount Airy Board of Commissioners meeting on June 21 when the couple publicly sought city officials’ help.
Strauss repeated that fear during a tour around his home several days ago: “I get knots in my heart every time it rains, because I don’t know how much longer this house is going to stand.”
The Strauss couple has occupied the home since August 2008, after deciding to retire to Mount Airy.
They later noticed cracks in the driveway, the ground sloping downward and soil increasingly being lost.
Strauss said city Fire Chief Zane Poindexter, who formerly occupied the home, happened to stop by recently after an emergency call in the Inman Circle area and was shocked by its present appearance. “What happened to my back yard?” he recalls Poindexter as saying.
The erosion problem at the Strauss home might be understandable if it were located along a river or some other large waterway. However, there is no such natural flow of water through the property and it appears that a “perfect storm” scenario is responsible.
The house sits along a hillside and is positioned in a way that large amounts of water seem to be funneling into the lot from above. It comes from sources including a 24-inch pipe that empties from a parking area of the nearby Central United Methodist Church and eventually flows into the ravine behind the Strauss property.
“This is where a lot of it comes from,” Strauss said while pointing toward a concrete ditch built on an embankment at the corner of the church property.
Appealing to council
City government personnel and others have visited the Strauss home, which once was located outside the municipal limits before being annexed. Yet no one has offered any solution, or resolution, to the situation that he believes is due to drainage issues away from his property which are public in origin and not his responsibility as a private landowner.
“Absolutely,” he said, while also rejecting any notion that the problem stems from unusually heavy rainfall in recent years or some other “act of God.”
“I didn’t cause this and God didn’t cause this,” Strauss said while surveying the erosion encroaching on his home. “It was man-made.”
Seemingly at wit’s end, Mr. and Mrs. Strauss approached the city commissioners on June 21 in the hopes that they might intervene in some way — and achieved positive results.
“If we have a flaw in the drainage system … I would expect the city to step up and address it,” Commissioner Jim Armbrister said after listening to Strauss describe his dilemma.
“This just doesn’t involve Mr. Strauss, it’s a community problem,” Armbrister added.
Commissioner Shirley Brinkley also seemed moved by the issue, saying that with different city and other individuals having visited the site “I would have thought there would have been some type of action before now.”
Brinkley subsequently made a motion for municipal staff members to accelerate efforts toward a possible solution and produce answers for the board’s next meeting, which was approved 5-0.
“It’s an extreme problem and it’s going to take some big solution,” Commissioner Steve Yokeley predicted.
“The first thing they need to do is divert the water,” the homeowner said last week while surveying the area around his property.
In the interim, the couple hopes some method for protecting their property can be identified sooner rather than later.
That means more rip-rap and wood chips being used as a stopgap measure. Strauss, who is disabled and walks with the help of a cane, mentioned that two college students show up from time to time to place the heavy stones around the grounds as their schedules permit.
The retiree says 80 tons of wood chips and 15 tons of rip-rap have been devoted to the mission.
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.