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.