ERWIN — For years, waters from heavy rains have traveled down the mountains of Unicoi County to get to the river. The only problem is the town of Erwin lies in between.
“Our biggest problem that we have in Erwin is the way that we’re located in between the mountains and the river, and with the railroad and the interstate creating a damming effect, it creates a lot of potential flooding for us and our residents,” Town Recorder Randy Trivette said.
However, town officials have completed several projects to combat the flooding issue and several more are in the works.
An ongoing measure the town takes to address stormwater flooding is continued preventative maintenance on the town’s right-of-way ditches. Trivette said the town keeps these ditches dug out as much as possible while still maintaining the aesthetics of the road and adjacent property.
“That seems to be working pretty well,” Trivette said. “If we can keep the water in the ditches, then it prevents the flooding running down the road and the water going where it’s not supposed to.”
Trivette said Erwin is not equipped to control a 100-year flood, though he said the likelihood of such an occurrence is small. He said the town’s flooding problems instead stem from what he called “nuisance rains,” brief rains that hammer the town with heavy rain. The water from these rains often comes too quickly for ditches to handle.
But Trivette said retention ponds would hold the water and release it in a controlled fashion, which would divert it in the ditches and allow them to work in the manner they’re supposed to.
Construction of one such retention pond was completed several years ago on the grounds of Sunnycrest Apartments, Rock Creek Road. Prior to its completion, much of the flood water would make its way down 9th Street to Balsam Circle and to Elm and Main Avenues. The retention pond was constructed with a diversionary ditch, which takes stormwater runoff to Rock Creek once it reaches a certain capacity rather than to the ditches located throughout town.
“It’s worked really well for us,” Trivette said. “We’ve had some heavy floods and some major rains, and that system’s worked well.”
Stormwater mitigation was also incorporated into another one of the town’s recently completed projects — the first phase of the Unicoi County Courthouse parking lot. The lot was constructed with a 100-year underground retention pond that captures water that runs off the parking area and will collect water running off the parking lot’s second phase, which is likely to be put out for bids this week. Trivette said officials hope construction will begin on the second phase later this summer.
The Erwin Board of Mayor and Aldermen also recently awarded a contract to Summers-Taylor Construction to replace stormwater piping along Second Street from Elm to Main Avenue. Trivette said the piping in place has collapsed, which causes water to pond on Elm Avenue. Trivette said the construction company has already received notice to proceed with the project.
While some mitigation efforts are in place, more are planned to address stormwater issues in other problem areas in Erwin. Trivette said the engineering work for a planned retention pond at Evergreen Cemetery, along 7th Street, has been completed. The town has also worked with the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation to get approval on its location and purchased an easement from a property owner for its installation.
Trivette said this pond will capture flood water that runs through the cemetery and prevent it from overflowing the ditches that run along 7th Street, keeping the water off Elm and Main avenues. Trivette said the project will likely go out for bids this fall and is hoping it can be completed this year.
Another planned location for a retention pond is near the Unicoi County YMCA and the track at Unicoi County High School. It would capture and control water coming from the mountains behind the nearby Unicoi County Health Department. Trivette said much of the engineering work on this project has been completed. Before such a pond could become effective, Trivette said some work would be required on the YMCA and school property, and that YMCA and school officials would need to complete this. The town would also need to increase stormwater pipe sizes and repair ditches in the area, Trivette said.
Officials are pursuing both federal and state grant funding for the project, and it is not ready to be put out for bids.
“It would be a huge benefit for the people who live along Mohawk Drive and along Love Street,” Trivette said.
Engineers working on the downtown revitalization master plan are also looking at the town’s stormwater drainage system.