Where they stand: City Council candidates discuss flood control

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, April 29, 2008

This is the first in a question-and-answer series with candidates for the Franklin City Council.

What policies and initiatives will you support to help protect downtown Franklin from future flooding?

Mayoral candidates

Jim Councill

Prayer and a giant umbrella!

For three years I have held meetings with the Corps of Engineers and seven cities and counties and state agencies to explore solutions. We have received authorization through Congressman Randy Forbes to do a study of the Chowan River Basin. We now await funding for the study. When funded, that study will be paid for 100 percent by the Corps.

Developing solutions will be funded at 50 percent Corps / 50 percent local, and doing the agreed upon projects are at 75-25 (local). We will explore each phase and results, and then the City Council will determine how to proceed with citizen input as to whether to fund the project.

I have requested an almost-completed engineering study of drop-gate solutions to protect downtown between Main and High streets. The cost will have to be considered at the proper time when the project can be fully engineered. All this will be done with cost-effectiveness and citizen input. We owe our businesses our best efforts to protect them where possible. Options will be developed.

Ellis Crum

Protecting downtown Franklin from future flooding will be important in the upcoming years. I believe that we must revisit the recommendations made by the Army Corps of Engineers. This plan included building a levee system to protect downtown Franklin.

This levee was initially to be 16 feet, but with the two recent flooding events, we need to re-engage the Corps of Engineers to design and construct the system with federal money.

Additionally, the city must design a damage-mitigation plan. Franklin must also devise a phased withdrawal plan for businesses and residents of our downtown.

As mayor, I will also dialogue to our neighbors further up river on both the Nottaway and Blackwater rivers to assist us by providing flood mitigation in their areas to prevent run-off here in Franklin.

Greg McLemore

Safety of the lives and property of our citizens and businesses is the most important duty of your mayor. As your mayor I would work vigorously with the Army Corps of Engineers to find a permanent solution for the flooding problem of not just downtown Franklin but our entire city, including exploration of a possible dredging concept. I would certainly consider investigating modifications in our infrastructure regarding drainage pipes, ditches and sewers to see if a solution could be achieved there.

I would also immediately move to establish some form of emergency sandbag brigades, composed of both city workers and citizen volunteers, in advance. These brigades would have pre-positioned and filled sandbags located in sheds very near flooding points, particularly downtown. This would also provide a temporary but immediate response to provide ample time to address possible evacuation of residents and businesses if necessary. I think that using city funds for securing solutions to the flooding problem is much more important and responsible than building new parks and a railway museum.

Ward 1

Barry Cheatham

Preparedness is the key to mitigating disaster. This includes maintaining the local Riverkeeper Program and taking community action when told to do so by the National Weather Service and U.S. Geological Survey’s hydrologic experts. As the nation and the state have improved their emergency preparedness, so must we. We must get our city budget back in line; as I’ve said before, we cannot afford to have an emergency in our current financial state.

If areas of the city lie in the 100-year floodplain, efforts must be made to mitigate this. I believe in the rehabilitation and use of existing structures in the downtown area rather than new construction that will further erode the area and increase the risk of flooding. New construction that cannot be avoided in these areas must be done in accordance with floodplain requirements. In addition, I will encourage the responsible maintenance of existing natural areas that not only assist with flood prevention but are also aesthetically pleasing and helpful in reducing the amounts of pollution entering the waterways adjacent to our city.

Dan Hoctor

Businesses that have been downtown for some time deserve the initiatives of local city government to be followed through sooner rather than later. We need to push for the funding of the Chowan River Basin study through Congressman Randy Forbes. The Corps of Engineers study is a nice start, but before we are able to get funding and complete the study we might suffer more flooding.

One step forward that the city has accomplished is receiving a full-funded grant to install a gauging station somewhere along the Blackwater River that would help us determine when the river would crest. This will warn us of possible future flooding and give businesses enough time to evacuate. The city is also exploring the option of drop gates at the railroad tracks along Franklin Street that would help alleviate flooding to the immediate points past the (middle) of Main Street, by stopping the flow of water through the drainage pipes; this is an ongoing engineering study. Most want a long-term solution, but this will obviously be determined by funding.

Ward 2

Benny Burgess

I would support any practical and fiscally sound initiative that would help protect the downtown business district. Downtown is an important component of the city’s economic base. Land-use policies that require new pavement to be pervious, the planting of trees, or other environmentally sound practices should be investigated.

That being said, I do not believe we have the funds necessary to solve this problem on our own. The city should continue to work with the Army Corps of Engineers and join forces with other counties affected by flooding along the Blackwater River to determine not only the cause but ways to avoid future flooding. I also believe that rather than paying outside consultants, we have very talented engineers and environmentalists in our region who would be willing to serve on a task force to study the river and suggest innovative solutions.

In addition, I think the city needs to promote more preparedness with the downtown businesses. Workshops, outside agencies and our own local people can assist business owners in this endeavor.

Charles Wrenn

The approach I favor is to continue support for a study of the Chowan, Blackwater and Nottoway rivers and all sources of water that feed this basin. Hopefully, that study will produce realistic and affordable solutions that will help minimize the impact of future floods. Some work has been done on an idea to strategically locate gate valves on storm sewer lines in the vicinity of downtown. This sounds like at least a partial fix to the problem, and should be pursued further.

There is nothing original here. This problem has been seriously “brainstormed.” However, we need to stay alert for other solutions that might help.