“It was like a river was in our backyard,” said Sylvia Clark, 61, who moved into her home on Garden Drive about a week ago.
Richard McClain, the executive director of the Johnson City Housing Authority, which owns the property in the housing development, said the rain on Saturday wasn’t as bad as past storms.
“It got out of the banks a little bit, but it wasn’t dramatic,” he said. There was some water buildup around the creek, but McClain said it mostly affected a nearby grassy area. “It didn’t really impact anything directly that we have,” he said.
During a shower last August, he said, the flooding was worse. Water washed mulch out of the playground and got into some of the community’s air conditioning units.
Johnson City Public Works Director Phil Pindzola said there isn’t enough capacity in the creek bed to control the water that passes through the neighborhood. “I think it’s more water than what the ... big ditch line and everything else can handle,” he said.
While Johnson City has completed several projects in recent years to help mitigate flooding around the downtown area, there are still parts of the city that occasionally deal with higher-than-normal water levels. That includes the Carver Community, which Andy Best, the city’s assistant director of public works, said sits partially in a flood zone.
“What happens is that section is fairly flat, so that’s why the water is spreading out,” Best said.
Best said several years ago the city looked at excavating land upstream from the Carver Community, creating a space for the water to collect and thereby lowering water levels downstream, but there wasn’t enough land available to alleviate flooding.
With the city’s help, McClain said the Johnson City Housing Authority cleans out the creek every year or two to remove the sediment that builds up along the bottom, which helps keep the water moving.
“We haven’t ever had any water go into the apartments,” he said. “It’s always gets right up to the doorstep on a few apartments, but then it seems to go back down.”
The city has made progress on downtown flooding with its mitigation program, which included dredging, widening and even rerouting some streams in the area, as well as installing new culverts and detention basins. Both Founders Park and King Commons were developed in part to help control stormwater.
Pindzola said Johnson City experiences two types of floods: Those along creeks and those around sinkholes. In the downtown area, Founders and King are designed to capture excess water and return it to the creek system. Pindzola said the city has opened up 2,000 feet of creek throughout the downtown area, which was previously contained in box culverts.
“Before, with all the buildings it was hard to get the water into the system,” Pindzola said. The city has also purchased property around sinkholes and are trying to eliminate properties in floodways to keep those areas clear.
Pindzola said the city is planning on conducting work at the intersection of Washington and North Belmont streets and could buy property between King Street and Fairview Avenue as a way to reduce the impact of flooding.
Dianna Younce, 59, who also lives in the Carver Community, said the flooding on Saturday was minor, especially compared to the flooding in August. It’s an issue that’s inevitable, she said.
“I’ve lived here two years and I’ve not had a problem yet. It’s not come in my house yet,” Younce said.
Nikki Parker and her husband, Pastor Scott Parker, used to operate their church, By His Blood Ministries, out of the building at 127 Garden Drive. The church and its parking lot are close to where King Creek winds through the complex before traveling under West Unaka Avenue into Carver Park.
She still remembers the flooding they experienced last August. “We’ve got about five or so steps coming up to the church,” she said, “and it went all the way up to the top there this past August.”
Parker said the ministry stayed in that church for about a year and a half before moving to another location in Elizabethton, a decision that she said was not related to the flooding that occurred in the area.
McClain said one of the housing authority’s long-range plans is to tear down the apartments in the Carver Community and move those homes to a drier location. He said the organization is in the middle of renovating and remodeling its public housing.
“Carver is one of those that we’ll have to replace,” McClain said, “and given the flooding there, the odds are not good that we can utilize that land unless the flooding gets mitigated somehow.”
Because the organization has renovated the buildings in recent years, he said replacing those homes is far down his to-do list. “We’ve targeted them to be later in our schedule to tear down to rebuild because they’re still in pretty good usable condition,” he said.
Best said regulating development in flood zones is a fine line between protecting residents and preserving property rights.
“In a perfect world, you wouldn’t let anybody build in flood zones, but then half the country, not just Johnson City, you couldn’t develop in,” he said.