Last flood quick, but costly; renews discussions on what to do about downtown flooding

The Town of Pulaski’s most recent flooding event was quick, but costly with 47 structures in and around the town being damaged.

The quick event set off a new round of discussions among town council members about what can be done to stop such flooding in the future.

Pulaski Fire Chief Robbie Kiser reported to Town Council last week that damages to residences, commercial structures and town facilities from the April 13 flooding totaled over $300,000.

Kiser told council that the town saw 22 commercial structures sustain “minor” to “affected” levels of damage. He noted the town used Virginia Department of Emergency Management (VDEM) tools in assessing the damage.

He added that, together, the town and county had 25 residential structures damaged with two in the Brookmont Road area of the county near the town being deemed destroyed.  Damage to four residences were deemed as “minor,” while the remaining 21 sustained “minor or affected” damage.

Kiser said the main areas of flooding within the town included the streets of Crescent, Lottier, Dora Highway, Altoona, Lafayette and East Main Street / Madison. The town’s flooding extended into the county along Brookmont Road.

Kiser said residential damage totaled in the $176,000 range, while commercial damages amounted to $101,000.

“It was a quick flood,” Kiser noted. “It was about a six-hour event, but it did a lot of damage. The water went down about as quick as it came up.”

Town owned areas affected by the flooding will need some $50,000 in repairs.

Kiser said the Dora Connector Trail – the walking trail from the Historic Train Station to Route 99 – will require some $18,524 in repairs including labor, equipment hours and materials.

Another $13,404 will be needed to repair the Gatewood Dam access road.

It will take $5,800 to repair the washed-out portions of Lottier Street, and another $1,300 to fix South Washington Avenue.

Tree removal along the Dora Connector Trail and Peak Creek will cost some $2,400.

And repairing damage done to the Critzer Pump Station will cost upwards of $8,500.

Kiser, Town Manager Shawn Utt and several members of town council had praise for town employees who worked during the event to mitigate flood damage as well as handle other more routine issues simultaneously.

Discussion of the mid-April flood prompted councilman Joseph Goodman to pass along to council a question he is being asked by local citizens and business owners since the flood – when is the Corps of Engineers going to come and fix the creek?

The United States Army Corps of Engineers is an engineer formation of the United States Army that primarily oversees dams, canals and flood protection in the United States, as well as a wide range of public works throughout the world.

Goodman told council he is asked that question by citizens after he tells them the town can’t fix the creek.

“We can’t go into the creek with equipment because the Corps has jurisdiction,” Goodman said.

Noting the “long process” required to get on the Corps’ “to do” list, and the time it would take to acquire funding, Goodman suggested it would still be a good idea to have a discussion on the flooding issue.

“Two major floods in 10 years, some would say isn’t too bad,” Goodman said. “But there are homes being lost and businesses and citizens being displaced. I think we need to push this a little farther.”

Vice Mayor Greg East said he’d heard a lot about what the town can and can’t do about the creek, but asked Utt exactly what are the guidelines for the town.

Utt responded that Corps regulations require the town to determine the normal waterline for the creek. Then it can cut grass or remove dirt down to that line and nothing below.

East said in the Bell Avenue area there are several “little islands” in the creek that inhibits water flow.

“It seems we could go in there and take a lot of that out,” East said in recommending a parallel plan of action – working with the Corps on the big problem, while handling what he calls the “low hanging fruit” small issues that the town can do itself to address the creek flooding.

Utt and council discussed several possible solutions such as a retention pond of sorts upstream to slow the rate of flood waters rushing downstream – to doing things that would speed the rate of water leaving the downtown area so flooding wouldn’t occur.

During the discussion, Utt pointed out to council that in his past research he had learned that April’s flood was actually the 19th such event in the past 90 years for the town.

“That’s one every five years,” remarked Goodman. “That’s a serious problem we really need to address.”

East said he’d like to discuss the issue more at the next meeting of council on June 2.

Councilman Jamie Radcliffe noted how the railroad trestle over the creek in the area behind the Sheriff’s Office often works as a dam to slow the flow of water in that area. He explained that there are two pipes below the trestle, and one routinely gets clogged with debris. The other pipe, he said, can’t handle the flow and the water is dammed up.

Utt said he had written Norfolk Southern about the issue, but the railway hasn’t responded as yet.

“If we need to, we need to contact our delegate or senator for their help. Businesses can’t keep going on like this. It’s been going on a long time,” Radcliffe said about the flooding.

East quipped, “I guess now we have three parallel paths to follow … the Corps, the low-hanging fruit and Norfolk Southern.”

By MIKE WILLIAMS, The Patriot