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Officials tour St. Albans flooding

Faced with increasing complaints about flooding in parts of the city, Mayor Dick Callaway, along with other city and regional officials, city residents and representatives of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service, toured the city Wednesday in a search for solutions.

Over the past few years, "nuisance flooding" has been increasingly common in parts of St. Albans, particularly along a creek and its tributary that run through the eastern part of the city. While the areas are fine normally, heavy rains can cause storm sewers to back up and the creeks to flood -- a relatively recent issue.

"We really aren't plagued until we have those cloud bursts," Callaway said.

Some of the flooding is caused by long-term maintenance neglect of culverts and drainage pipes. Over the years, sediment and debris have built up in the storm sewer system, which caused backups during heavy rains.

"We don't have anywhere near the capacity today that we did 20 years ago," said Robert Belcher of the Chapman Technical Group, which serves as the city's engineer.

The other issue is man-made. Structures built along and over creeks, like private bridges and retaining walls, contribute to the flooding by blocking the natural flow of the stream. In addition, the bridges and walls can catch trash and debris picked up by high water, further blocking the stream.

"Until obstructions in the streams are removed, it's not going to get any better," Belcher said.

Callaway said in recent weeks, large debris has been found in the storm sewer system -- both inadvertent and deliberate. As an example, the mayor showed photos of two tires that had been shoved into a storm sewer manhole.

"We have a lot of irresponsible activity," he said.

The officials made six stops along the creeks during their tour: the baseball field on Monroe Avenue, a bridge on Chestnut Street, several stream embankments and culverts near Kanawha Terrace and Walnut Street, Monmouth Street and City Park.

"We want to mitigate this as much as we can within our abilities," Callaway said.

Previous estimates by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have placed the cost of solving all the flooding issues at $7 million -- money the city doesn't have.

But residents who have seen flooding in their yards and on their streets say they just want something to be done.

"Nothing ever gets done," said Joann Holmes, a Monmouth Street resident whose property crosses a creek that has experienced flooding in recent years.

Holmes said flooding often starts around a vehicle bridge near her backyard. Sediment and debris frequently block the stream's path, causing flooding in the neighborhood. Just last Wednesday, the stream flooded four separate times, she said.

"I'm 67 years old," Holmes said. "I'm not getting under that bridge and cleaning it out."

It's not just the creek, Monmouth Street residents said; it's also the storm sewer system along the street. After heavy rains, water backs up onto the street before the nearby creek has even reached the top of its banks.

"Since July 2, we've had to move our cars nine times (because of street flooding)," said Monmouth Street resident Gary Hager.

Hager was one of a few citizens who attended the meeting and tour on Wednesday.

Karen Kincaid, who has lived on the street since 1968, said she had never seen flooding on her street until around 2009. She met the tour group when it arrived on her street and has been to city council meetings to complain in the past.

"It's getting worse," she said.

The problems in St. Albans aren't confined to that community, though. Cities across the state have experienced similar issues, said Jerry Brackenrich, the NRCS's Mountain Research Conservation and Development Program coordinator.

"You're not in a unique situation here," he said after Wednesday's tour.

While the city can work on its storm sewer system, additional permits are needed for work to be conducted in streams since they are considered "waters of the state."

The NRCS will put a short report together of its findings from Wednesday. The report will include the NRCS's assessment of the issues as well as programs that could be available to help the city combat the flooding problem.

The report will be finished within a week. The city can then use that report in asking for assistance from other agencies.

Though Wednesday's meeting didn't result in any direct action in ameliorating the flooding, it got the city's feet wet in correcting the problem.

"You have to have a starting point," said Terry Martin, project coordinator for the Regional Intergovernmental Council.

Contact writer Matt Murphy at Matt.Murphy@dailymail.com or 304-348-4817.


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