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Question DetailsAsked on 7/24/2017

Can water company pull out bushes and not replace to repair a leak?

The main water pipe to my neighbors is leaking - the pipe or valve is in our bushes. Water company wants to pull them out to fix and not replace. The bushes are probably 20 year old Camellias that are at least 10 feet high - can they do that? I have called the water company but they are no help - anyone know if they can do this or someone Ic an call to check??

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You would have to talk to an attorney specializing in real property law for a definitive answer (probably $250-500 for that) - or find your state law and local county/city codes on Utility Easements and read them, but I have never heard of a state or locale where the utilities did not have the right to excavate or remove vegetation to perform maintenance or repairs on their utility lines.

Generally, and specifically by law in some states, they will retopsoil and reseed lawn if grass was there originally, but generally they are not required to replace or even save shrubs or trees or other landscaping, though generally they will attempt to save and set aside hardscaping and bushes and flower beds and such (by the backhoe bucketfull) if requested.

I would talk to the supervisor of the crew - utilities do not want unhappy customers badmouthing them, so most will go to reasonable effort to save reasonably small vegetation - though they will not go to great effort or expense to save large trees or such. It is likely they will bring in a backhoe (even if not already needed to dig up the valve to replace it) and try to dig around and excavate a rootball with each shrub, as much as feasible. I would buy a few cheap Walmart tarps (about $10 for a 10x12 or so size, about $6-7 for 8x10') and provide those for them to lay out on your lawn or drive or whatever convenient place is close by the shrubs on your side, and use the backhoe to pick up the shrubs with some rootball one by one and put them on the tarps (ideally one per tarp), then you wet it down good and tie the tarp around the rooball until they are done and you can have a plant center or landscaper replant the shrubs. Utility will generally NOT be responsible for the replanting assuming you want to put them back where they may remotely possibly (usually not for 20-30 years) have to be dug up again in the future.

If your water lines are shallow (typically 3 feet or so if shallow or no frosst penetration in your area) and they are hand-digging, they might only have to remove one shrub to get to the valve, and may dig around it and scoot it and a 3-4' diameter rootball over onto your side to work if you provide a tarp to warp the rootball in to keep the dirt from falling out and to keep it moist.

This assumes the water line is either on the neighbor's property (commonly the valve is 2-3 feet inside the property line on each adjacent property) in which case they definitely have the right to excavate, or that it is in a utility easement. If not in a legal easement I guess you could prevent them from digging and force them to dig around your bushes and reroute the line if it is on your property. Notae the easement may be a formal easement shownn on your property title, or in some states utilities have (by law) an implicit easement for from 5-15' wide (sometimes more for overhead power lines, up to 200' in some cases for high power transmission lines).

Two other possibilities you could discuss with them (probably their Maintenance or Engineering department) - is (assuming the leak itself is not at the bushes but they need to dig them up to replace a shutoff valve which will not shut off because it is so old) is to find out what they will charge to leave that shutoff valve in place (permanently in open position) and put in another shutoff valve nearby where they do not have to dig up your bushes. Or to reroute the line around the bushes - though neither of those solutions is likely to be less than $1000 probably and sometimes double or triple that, because unless the leak is some distance towards the neighbor's house from the existing shutoff valve so they could put in another shutoff valve closer to the leak, it almost certainly requires a "hot tap" on the water main (done without closing off the water flow) or shutting down the water main to put in a new shutoff valve, which is not cheap.

If the leak is not extreme, they would likely also allow you a few days to get a Tree Service company in who has a root ball clamshell excavator, to extract and ball your bushes and park them nearby, then replant after the repair work is done. Best chance of survival if that is done, but the utility does not (that I have ever seen) have to contribute to the cost of doing that. I would guess you are talking (assuming 3-5 bushes affected) at least $500-700 and quite possibly more in the $1000-2000 range to have that done professionally because it means two trips (one to dig and store, another to replant) - at your expense almost certainly, though it might possibly be covered by your homeowner's insurance - that is probably a long shot and of course you would still have to pay your deductible.

I guess it is possible also - depending on law - that your neighbor could be made to pay for the removal and replanting (or replacement after destruction) since the work is being done for his benefit - this assuming of course that the bushes are actually on your property. If on the line, he generally has the right to cut through them (and the roots) at the property line, making for one-sided plants (which might or might not survive the experience if slabbed or cut down the middle).

Answered 3 years ago by LCD

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