What's the issue: A culvert collapse next to U.S. 24 in Sugar Creek has not been repaired after five years, as multiple entities have said responsibility lies elsewhere.Why it matters: The area has flooded multiple times since the collapse, causing damage to businesses in Independence and Sugar Creek and a nearby church.
Five years ago Labor Day weekend, a sinkhole appeared in Mark Cosgrove's Best Buy Cars Company lot off U.S. 24 in Sugar Creek.
An underground storm culvert that carries water from Independence underneath U.S. 24 and Cosgrove's lot had broken, causing the sinkhole that has since grown. The highway serves as the Independence-Sugar Creek border at that point, and culvert broke just off the Sugar Creek side of the road, just east of Northern Boulevard.
Cosgrove soon filled the hole with large rocks and then gravel, not only to keep people from falling in but also to keep his water main from being exposed to the elements. But others think that quick-fix has been the chief cause of flash floods the past several years after some heavy rainstorms, the latest time Aug. 21-22.
With Independence, Sugar Creek and Missouri Department of Transportation jurisdictions all in play in a flood plain and businesses in both cities affected by floods, there are plenty of people eager for a resolution that is not easy to attain. Neither the cities nor MoDOT claim the culvert as their responsibility, as it lies in private property.
“It's not an easy fix,” said Mike Sanders, the former Jackson County Executive who now serves as Sugar Creek's city attorney. In addition to multiple jurisdictions, there are easements going back to the 1800s.
“There's no linear path (to a solution),” he said. “It's complicated legally and engineeringly.”
In addition to Cosgrove's car lot, Fairmount Liquors, Wet Wash Car Wash and the Full Gospel Assembly church at Northern and Sixth Street, which is next to another culvert underneath Northern, all have had problems when U.S. 24 floods over.
Sharon Ankrom, serving as Full Gospel's interim pastor following her husband and longtime pastor Doyle's death from cancer earlier this week, said the August floodwaters were the first to get inside the church, after earlier floods merely covered the parking lot. Water overwhelmed the sump-pumps and flooded the basement up to the ceiling, ruining all appliances, decorations, records, supplies and anything else stored there.
“By far the worst,” Ankrom said. “We lost four services. It was very distressing for all of us, but especially for (Doyle).”
Thelma Jordan, who has owned Fairmount Liquors for nearly 30 years, said the latest flood didn't cause her to discard her entire inventory, as the city health department made her do after a July 2015 flood. She said at that time it had been the worst she experienced. But Jordan did have to replace some appliances and electronics.
Erosion off the Independence side of the culvert has caused the flood plain's bank to creep ever closer to the freestanding sign outside her business. One can't use a ladder on one side of the sign anymore.
Independence officials have said their city's portion of the culvert checks out good, though Cosgrove said he wonders if brush from around the drainage area hasn't contributed to the floods.
“It's a big watershed area. I don't feel obligated that everybody's water issue is for me to fix,” he said.
The Sugar Creek culvert was installed in the early 1960s, when the land was owned by a group that included then-mayor Rudy Roper, Cosgrove said, and he said they used old smokestacks the city purchased from BP/Amoco.
Cosgrove, who has tried to move his vehicles if a flood is possible, said he's received estimates of $200,000 to $400,000 to fix the broken portion of the culvert and the sinkhole.
“It's not a fix for one business to have to do,” he said.
The city of Sugar Creek has issued a municipal violation against Cosgrove regarding property code enforcement for how he filled the sinkhole. Cosgrove's attorney, Martin Kerr, said he is in active negotiations with MoDOT to find a solution on fixing the culvert.
“That's where we think the primary responsibility lies,” Kerr said. “It's a major thoroughfare; you can't just shut it down.”
Until that solution occurs, many people maintain a certain anxiety level.
“In the meantime, what are we to do if it happens again,” said Ankrom, whose congregation has stripped the basement structures down to the studs in anticipation of a rebuild. “We can't take another loss like this.”