Sinkhole plagues businesses
County debates who should pay

LILBURN - Last year, John Souter had to pay $70,000 to fix a sinkhole at his business, the Oyster Barn.

He never dreamed that a year later he would be facing another damaging sinkhole, this time at the property next door.

"It's pretty critical that they do something," said Souter, whose business was closed by the city after the September flood until he hired a structural engineer to prove that the

building was sound.

Walgreen's, which owns the land, has maintained that the stormwater issue should be solved by the county, but spokesman Robert Elfinger said the company is looking at contractors to get the work moving.

"We are working to mediate any damages," he said. "We're going to work with the county when we're done to see the best way to deal with it."

He said he did not know when the repair work would begin, but Souter is concerned that another rain will cause the damage to harm his business.

During his issues last year, the city of Lilburn took him to court to force the business to pay for the repairs, and he said the same should happen with Walgreen's.

"Our business has dropped 80 percent," he said. "People don't think we're open. It doesn't look like an eating establishment; it looks like a construction site.

"They are pointing fingers. In the meantime, nothing is getting done."

Steve Leo, the director of the county's stormwater division, said the hardest part of his job for the last two weeks has been telling people when the county can't help them.

"It's not a county-owned pipe," he said. "We don't, by default, own every drainage pipe in the county. ... We're focusing on the ones we own. We can't use public funds to fix ones that aren't ours."

Since the floods, the county's stormwater and transportation departments have focused on the 14 culverts where damages have lead to unsafe roads. Five contractors are out doing the major jobs, with internal crews working on smaller ones.

Those projects are expected to take $5 million and be complete by Nov. 1.

Leo said he knows of four or five other sinkholes that occurred on private property, but he said the county can't help, and he isn't sure if the federal aid promised to the county applies to drainage.

"It's just not our pipe," he said. "They need to fix it."