F.C. Sets Oct. 17 Town Hall to Address Major Flooding Issues

Falls Church Assistant City Manager Cindy Mester announced Monday that plans have been laid for a public town hall on storm water and flooding issues on Monday, Oct. 17, at the Community Center.

The event has been scheduled in the wake of the extraordinary Sept. 8 rain, when the remnants of Tropical Storm Lee dumped eight inches of rain following the pass through only days earlier of the remnants of Hurricane Irene. Many City residences were left with flooded basements, both by storm water and sewage water.

F.C. City Manager Wyatt Shields told the News-Press in an interview yesterday that tops that will be presented at the meeting include information about how the City’s watershed, its existing storm water and sanitary systems work, an outline of recent improvements to those, and what’s in store with a watershed management plan. There will also be an update on the City’s ongoing sewer lining effort and information on how homeowners can protect themselves and the community as a whole become better prepared for incidents in the future.

Mester told the Council Monday the City’s current storm water preparedness is to handle a so-called “10 year storm,” as is the case with most surrounding jurisdictions.

Vice Mayor David Snyder pointed out, in that context, that some called the Sept. 8 rains a “1,000 year event.”

Mayor Nader Baroukh said, “I have received many, many phone calls about what happened that day.”

But in his News-Press interview, Shields was not optimistic about major internal improvements coming soon, because of the federal Environmental Protect Agency-mandated deployment of up to $25 million by the City to clean up water that heads for the Chesapeake Bay. “We simply don’t have the money to improve pipes that are operating under capacity now,” he said, although components of the EPA-mandated improvements “could go hand-in-hand” with the City’s storm water needs, since preventing erosion and silt is key to the EPA mandate.

The News-Press received numerous alarming reports some from angry residents following the Sept. 8 rain assailing the city for lack of responsiveness to their plight.

One, Leah McKay, submitted a Letter to the Editor published in the Sept. 22 edition, citing the “horrific flooding many of my neighbors and I experienced” from the Sept. 8 rain.

“I have lived here almost 18 years and could never have anticipated 4.5 feet of water blasting through my door and devastating half of my living space,” she wrote, and citing similar fates suffered by her neighbors, she added, “I’m appalled by the mishandling of this event by the city.”

She said the only appearance by city officials came when two people walked through the neighborhood reminding residents to submit required permit applications to City Hall before rebuilding.

A City resident said that the basement of her home on S. Spring Street was flooded not with storm water, but with sewage that came up through a toilet in the basement and filled the space with six inches of raw sewage water.

A single mother of three, she said that a city official examined the situation but did nothing, and did not offer information about how to clean up the mess. She said she was unable to get any response from commercial disaster clean-up companies because they were all too inundated with other requests.

Finally, she said, after a week she acted on a tip from a friend, and found an independent contractor who was following the storm up the east coast from his home base in Atlanta, and he came to clean up. The cost for the job was $8,000, not counting whatever it might cost to essentially rebuild the entire basement.

She told the News-Press that when similar flooding occurred at her home eight years earlier, she was told by City officials that it was due to a highly-uncommon “100 Year Storm,” and that it wouldn’t happen again for another 99 years.

But her’s was not the only case of repeat flooding of her home in Falls Church. On Hillwood Avenue, the Sept. 8 storm dumped over two feet of storm water into the basement of one home, whose occupant reported to the News-Press that it also happened to his neighbors.

In his case, he said, flooding of the basement in his home has been a common occurrence since the City seven years ago replaced storm water pipes to avert flooding on West Broad and Berry Streets.

“It has happened to me six or seven times in the last seven years,” he said, “and I don’t live near a creek or the Mississippi.” He added that despite the extensive flooding from Sept. 8, no one from the city came to examine or assess the damage.

One of his neighbors, he said, spent over $20,000 “out of pocket” to repair the damage to his home, and is not sure how much he will get back from insurance.

Moreover, he said, the City announced last summer that it was conducting a study of storm water problems on the upper end of Hillwood. “But we’re on the lower end, our area needs attention, too,” he said. He noted that no smoke tests of the pipes, to determine if there are leaks, have been done in his neighborhood.

In his case, since the work done on the W. Broad and Berry Street areas, flooding has occurred in his basement, with water coming in through floor drains, in unpredictable ways. In June, a simple thunderstorm brought eight inches of water into his basement, while when the remnants of Hurricane Irene came through in August, there was no flooding at all.

“The capacity of the pipes can handle slow rains. It’s the sudden bursts that they can’t handle,” he surmised. In the case of the Sept. 8 storm, he said, his basement encountered flooding and receding in three separate episodes.

Once receded, the flood waters leave “sticky mud” and property damage in their wake, he noted, including of a couch that he came down to find was floating around the room.

“There are a lot of questions out there,” he added, about property value, insurance and chances for repeats, much less what the City government intends to do now.