Flooding fix? Johnson City woes subject of meeting as state lawmaker gets involved

Gary B. Gray • Aug 22, 2013 at 10:23 AM

State Rep. Matthew Hill, R-Jonesborough, has initiated a community meeting next week to discuss Johnson City’s recent flooding problems — a connection with state legislators both city and Washington County officials have said needs to be made much stronger.

The state helped secure grants for the county after flooding in Dry Creek, but Hill’s constituents, including the city manager, county mayor, city and county commissioners and business and property owners, have been holding out hope the state might become a bigger player, considering the circumstances.

Hill was not immediately available for comment, and it would be guesswork to say particular “constituents” bent his ear on the downtown flooding issue or if he just felt it was a good time to learn more.

“The flooding we have seen over the last several months has caused major problems for our community,” Hill said. “I look forward to joining with the Department of Environment and Conservation, the Department of Transportation and other officials in doing all we can to help Johnson City overcome this issue.

“I applaud all of the hard work that Johnson City has done so far to address this issue and hope our state departments can further assist in helping solve our flooding problem — especially in places like the Austin Springs Road area, we must work toward a solution to ensure Washington County continues to grow and thrive in the future.”

The meeting will take place at 10 a.m. Wednesday at the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation regional office in Johnson City.

On Wednesday, Public Works Department Director Phil Pindzola was working with a surveyor at the Boone Street Detention Basin downtown to construct an irrigation, or outflow, pipe at King and Boone streets that will discharge water into King Creek when large amounts of rainfall are collected.

Funding has been a factor from the beginning, and Pindzola, along with a special task force, city commissioners, engineers, planners, land acquisitions and a little luck here and there, has enabled the city to make gains on its estimated $30 million long-range flood mitigation plan.

Pindzola said Andy Best, the city’s stormwater manager, will be giving a presentation at the meeting. He also said there have been no formal discussions between city officials and state legislators regarding financial help from the General Assembly. In fact, there has been no state dollars put toward the city’s flooding problems.

“No,” Pindzola said about state funding. “Nor has there been any federal government dollars. It’s all been funded locally. However, we’ve learned from the Washington County-Johnson City Emergency Management Agency that there are now federal remediation grants through the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency. That’s what we’re going to be focusing on — especially Cobb Creek — we’re starting to move in that direction.”

A few years ago, Pindzola stood at the Founder’s Park site — before it was a construction site. He told the Johnson City Press that he was keeping his fingers crossed on a major federal grant that would help pay for that flood mitigation project and more.

It never happened. Instead, money from monthly stormwater fees has acted as the primary financial mortar to shore up downtown flooding problems.

Earlier this month, an overflowing Cobb Creek wreaked havoc on a woman’s home and surged along East and West Brook lanes and underneath Oakland Avenue, where it then parallels along Austin Springs Road all the way to Boone Lake.

“We advised the (City) Commission that that’s a sensitive stream that is susceptible to flooding much quicker than many of the other waterways,” Pindzola said at the time. “In fact, the two that are most prone to flooding would be King Creek, which feeds into downtown, and Cobb Creek. We’re looking downstream to see if in fact there may be a way to release the water quicker and not have places like at Oakland Avenue flood.”

In August 2012, a severe rain event prompted officials to rescue at least 10 people from their homes in Washington County and in Unicoi County. Downtown Johnson City, which had escaped serious flooding in preceding events, wasn’t so fortunate.

Pindzola said has been assessing homes downstream and estimating the overall impact if they were to release water more quickly from King Creek, which feeds into downtown, and Cobb Creek.

Water covered West State of Franklin Road between Watauga Avenue and Buffalo Street as well as the streets leading into downtown. Some motorists were trapped in their vehicles when the water first started rising. The bus lot at the city’s maintenance garage flooded, which damaged numerous buses. Several city schools also flooded and the city was forced to cancel school the following day.

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