Flooding problems persist for Rock Hill residents

jmcfadden@heraldonline.comMay 11, 2013 

Odell Hope and his wife, Dianne, feel like “nobodies.”

Heavy rains last weekend dumped pools of water into their Morgan Street yard. A deluge of rain, mixed with dirt and grass, swept into the crawlspace beneath their house. They expected black mold to crust on their windows, and a persistent odor to waft in their living room.

Then, there are the bugs – “they like that dampness,” Odell Hope said.

Much of the Upstate and western North Carolina saw downpours after an upper low-pressure system moved into the area, dumping rains that prompted officials to issue flood warnings and alerts for area river basins, including the Catawba River and the Broad River in Blacksburg, throughout the week.

Last Sunday, a half-inch of rain fell over the area, followed by another inch throughout the night, said Larry Gabric, meteorologist with the National Weather Service.

The rain dissipated Monday, but it was little too late for the Hopes and their neighbors.

“This has been going on for five years,” Dianne Hope said.

Odell Hope, 78, punched a hole in the foundation of the home he and his wife have lived in for 17 years to filter out the water he says travels downhill from nearby Florence Street and into his front yard.

There’s no storm drain in front of their house to catch the water as it flows downward and slams into vents at the base of their house. Once, Dianne Hope said, the water was so high that it covered the front steps of her porch, preventing her from getting in or out of her own home.

The low-to-the-ground sidewalks in front of their home don’t block the water at all, the couple said.

“It’s getting worse,” said Dianne Hope, 58.

They pay about $3 per month for storm drainage they say doesn’t work.

They’ve asked city officials to install a storm drain near their house, Dianne Hope said, adding that she’s attended City Council and state Department of Transportation meetings to air her grievances.

But Morgan Street, bordering Arcade Park, is maintained by the state Department of Transportation, said city spokeswoman Katie Quinn, who added that the city has held meetings with residents and the state DOT to mitigate the problems.

After those meetings about a year ago, DOT officials went into Morgan Street and the surrounding areas, cleaning out ditches and unclogging storm drains that collected dirt, trash and sediment, said David Gamble, assistant maintenance engineer for Rock Hill’s DOT maintenance shop.

They also found TV’s and other miscellaneous items in the ditch lines, he said.

Gamble said officials have encountered similar problems in other areas of the city, including Carolina Avenue Extension, where DOT crews removed 12 tons of trash, tires, TV’s, limbs and leaves from ditches over three days.

“There was very little beyond that that we could do,” he said.

Many of the homes built on Morgan Street, in the Arcade Mills neighborhood, were constructed in low-lying areas without adequate drainage, said Bradley Trout, engineer manager for Rock Hill’s DOT office.

Maintenance crews, he said, are confined to working within DOT’s right-of-way, Trout said.

The right-of-way varies from road to road, said John McCarter, DOT administrator for the district covering York and Chester counties.

Years ago, the state acquired many streets in Rock Hill, including Morgan Street. The street’s right-of-way starts in the center of the road and extends 40 feet, 20 feet on either side, said Mike Bagley, the state DOT’s permits and contracts engineering manager.

Right-of-way, McCarter said, doesn’t extend to private property. That’s where the city comes in, he said.

“Once it leaves our right of way and enters in the city, it’s going to take a joint effort,” he said. “We can get (water) off the road...but then that responsibility falls into the city of Rock Hill to work it into the system.”

Installing new drainage systems would take special projects and grant money the DOT doesn’t have, he said.

DOT receives funding for 1,300 miles of state-maintained roads in York County, McCarter said, from a 16-cent per gallon gas tax that hasn’t fluctuated in nearly two decades.

“Everything we do now costs more than it did back in 1987,” McCarter said. “We get enough money to patch potholes, cut grass, fix signs, but we don’t have...a funding mechanism for us at the maintenance level to redo drainage systems and replace roads.

“We have a very difficult time just repaving roads around Rock Hill.”

Most of the new road construction projects in the county are funded by the Pennies for Progress 1 percent sales tax, Trout said.

Pennies for Progress is a York County program approved by voters.

Early this month, the state Senate Finance Committee approved a bill that would fund road and bridge construction projects by shifting tax money and borrowing on bonds. It would also increase the fee for 10-year driver’s licenses; charge owners of alternative fuel cars; and increase truck registration fees.

Road work is “very expensive,” McCarter said. “People don’t realize every little detail we try to do when you add it up. We just don’t have the money to do it.”

State Rep. John King, D-Rock Hill, said he attended the meetings with residents, state, city and council officials and was “under the impression” that a resolution would soon be reached.

“If the people reside in the city limits, in this county, in this state, it’s all of our problem and we need to rectify it,” he said.

Instead, officials have passed the buck to the next person, King said.

When city and state officials began talks about solving the city’s stormwater issues, King said, he expected to receive updates on progress.

“Because I haven’t heard from anyone in over a year, I thought they had resolved all of it...my constituents felt that the city, county and state were moving forward and making things happen that were supposed to happen,” he said.

A day after speaking with The Herald, King said he called state officials, who plan to schedule meetings with the city, county and residents to “rectify the issue that my constituents have been complaining about...that they have all right to be upset about.”

Nothing can be done?

Last month the city announced plans for a comprehensive stormwater study in response to residents’ complaints about standing water. Last week, a list of 127 areas in the city that need attention was presented to City Council after consultants took a look at the city’s stormwater issues.

The information includes estimated costs for projects, as well as the complaints filed with the city about these areas. Officials have already started bids for the first project on the list – the Hagins Street/Friendship Drive area, where residents have complained about flooded yards.

But Morgan Street, where responsibility for maintenance falls to homeowners, isn’t included on the list.

In meetings last month, city leaders said finding solutions for low-lying areas would be difficult since water naturally flows to the lowest point. That’s what prevents city officials from fixing many of the flooding issues on Morgan Street, built before current industry standards and lying at “the bottom of the hill” adjacent to an old creek bed, said Paul Carlisle, city public works director.

“All the water goes to the creek...we can’t stop the water from getting to the bottom of the hill,” he said. “There isn’t much the city can do to redirect that water. Where do you redirect it to? It’s got to go downhill.”

Rock Hill’s topography isn’t made for moats and pumps to funnel the water, Carlisle said, and city officials can’t “spend public funds on private property.”

“Mother Nature designed that topography,” he said. “We can do what we can within all reason to try and mitigate it. Can we stop it? No, there’s no way to do that...we didn’t make the land.

“You couldn’t take my entire budget in public works and make a difference.”

Nevertheless, the city has done projects in the area, Carlisle said, such as paving sidewalks.

“It may not have been in front of Ms. Hope’s house, but...we do a lot of internal projects with our general budget, not just our capital budget in neighborhoods,” he said. “It’s not like we don’t work in neighborhoods, we do.”

The monthly stormwater fee city residents pay is a “minimal amount of money for residents spread out over 20,000 residential units within the city,” he said.

Stormwater fees go into the city reserves for large-scale capital projects.

“The $2.83 a month that a resident pays doesn’t mean we’re going to do $2.83 in front of your house,” Carlisle said. “Everybody pays taxes for road resurfacing, but that doesn’t mean your road’s going to get resurfaced every year,” he said.

“We’re not going to work in front of everybody’s house because you paid us a fee. It’s not like your garbage pickup.”

Water, water everywhere

On Thursday, a chair stood slumped over the storm drain in front of Abby McClure’s home, just two houses down from the Hope family.

She, too, has seen waters rise in her yard, usually in the front, just enough to cover the top three steps leading to her porch.

Having rented her house for almost a year, she isn’t satisfied with the city’s explanation that water gushing into her yard is trying to make its way down to the creek several feet into her backyard.

“Evidently, it doesn’t come far enough,” she said.

On Monday, a small moat sat in front of the home across from McClure.

Another neighbor, James McCleave, has lived on Morgan Street for two decades.

“If it rains hard,” McCleave said, the water might even get under his home.

He pointed to the pool of water in front of his neighbor’s home.

“It’s not going to leave till the sunshine soaks it into the ground,” he said.

Three days later, it was a muddy mesh.

Jonathan McFadden •  803-329-4082

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