Residents want city to do something about urban flooding
EVERETT - Residents are calling on city leaders to ramp up efforts to find storm drainage solutions after heavy rains Thursday, Aug. 29 flooded basements and sent sewage into local rivers.
The city received 109 calls of flooding, and at least 20 incidents developed into flood claims from across Everett after a two-hour downpour dumped two inches of rain, public works spokeswoman Marla Carter said last week. Most of the claims are coming from north and central Everett residents, Carter said.
Claims adjusters will start visiting affected homes this week, public works director Dave Davis said last week.
The urban flooding highlights a massively expensive infrastructure problem facing many cities with aging or outdated sewer systems.
Sharon Gordon was in the City Clerk’s office Tuesday, Sept. 3 filling out a flood claim. Storm water destroyed her home’s basement in the 600 block of Wetmore Ave. north of Everett Community College.
Gordon’s frustration was evident. After a 2007 flood, she installed a $1,700 sewage backflow system designed specifically to prevent flooding under the city’s advice. She also installed other drainage systems at her house to keep water out. Now she wants a city engineer to help her.
She can’t sell the house at market value if it’s prone to flood, she said, and her home’s equity is part of her long-range plan to pay for her retirement.
“I’m at a loss, I don’t know what to do,” Gordon said.
She said many of her co-workers seem to have similar flooding stories.
Everett’s combined sewage and storm water pipe system across north Everett can’t handle heavy rain, adding to urban flooding that sends sewage water to low spots such as in basements. Most of south Everett has more modern separated storm water and sewer pipes.
When those combined pipes overfill, the system tries to spill out excess sewer water into Puget Sound. The rainstorm caused overflows at 11 of the city’s 13 sewer outfalls.
The Rucker Hill area got new sewage pipes in 2010, but it didn’t get the separated pipes that neighbors lobbied the city to build.
On Warren Street on Rucker Hill, neighbors reported 13 homes, including eight in a row, that had flooded basements.
Rucker Hill resident Michelle Murphy said the city has ignored the community.
The Rucker Hill project was built right before the city started considering separated pipes to alleviate flooding, Carter said. Its next sewer project in north Everett used separated pipes.
Shelley Weyer, chair of the Northwest Neighborhood, said she received more than 100 e-mails from neighbors.
The City Council should be prompting the city to quicken the pace on separating pipes, specifically fast-tracking a sewer/storm water separation project in their neighborhood, her husband Greg Weyer said. The Northwest Neighborhood project is set to start in January.
Even if the city tried to separate all of north Everett’s pipes in short order, it would take decades to complete, Davis said last week.
It would cost more than $600 million to convert and replace all of the city’s combined sewer and storm water pipes, Davis said.
The city spends about $100 million every 10 years on water and sewer improvements, Mayor Ray Stephanson said.
“Ultimately, it comes down to money,” Davis said. “How much are citizens willing to pay in (utility) rates?”
The City Council said it might be time to start looking at that question.
“It’s no bargain to have a lower sewer rate if the sewer’s coming into your basement,” Councilwoman Brenda Stonecipher said.
Other sites in north Everett took in a lot of water.
The American Red Cross branch at 2530 Lombard Ave. was one of the hardest hit. The Red Cross’ first-floor headquarters is below ground. Water damage gutted the furnishings and drenched the building’s drywall, the Herald reported.
The Red Cross moved its first-floor operations to higher floors and other buildings, the Herald reported.
EvCC sustained some sewage flooding inside Olympus and Rainier halls, college services vice president Pat Sisneros said. The college was disinfecting both buildings’ floors last week.
Rainier will continue to get flooded until the city builds a separate pipe system, Sisneros said. “Rainier, because of its proximity to Wetmore, we have issues when there’s a downpour,” he said.
There were no flood reports from the vicinity of Providence’s hospital tower on Colby Avenue, Carter said last week. A freak June 2010 storm flooded many residents’ basements in that part of town.
The 2010 flood cost the city $940,254 to cover 75 claims, Carter said.
In response to the flooding, the city installed new separated water and sewer lines in that area two years ago. The city also encouraged area homeowners to install water-catching rain gardens and backflow valves to keep water at bay.
The city has another pipe separation project intended to prevent basement flooding covering 30 blocks southwest of the Providence Colby Campus that’s already in the design stage. The project boundaries are generally north to 10th Street, west to Grand Avenue, south to between 17th and 19th streets, and east to between Colby and Rockefeller avenues. Construction bids are scheduled to go out in January.
The sewage spills temporarily closed the beaches at Howarth Park, Jetty Island and other waterfront sites.
Meanwhile, starting next year public works will begin giving people rebates for building rain gardens and selling rain barrels, Carter said. A $50 rebate on utility bills will go to people who disconnect rain downspouts that go directly into the sewer system and instead divert water to a rain garden. Connecting downspouts to the sewer system used to be standard practice for older homes, Carter said.
The changes won’t send water into neighbors’ yards, Carter said. “There would be checks and balances.”
The city calls the almost $250,000 giveaway program the “Let it Rain” program.
The City Council is expected to approve money for the program later this year.
How to start a claim
To fill out a flood claim, contact the City Clerk’s office at 425-257-8610 or stop by City Hall at 2930 Wetmore Ave. during business hours.
Check out our online Publications!