Flood victims blame city for neglect

200 North 200 West, Washington City, Utah, July 26, 2013 | Photo by Cody Pitcher for St. George News

WASHINGTON – Residents from neighborhoods affected by last month’s flash flooding filled part of the Washington City Council chambers Wednesday to share their frustrations and concerns with the city council. Some residents blamed the city for not adequately maintaining its drainage infrastructure while others asked about possible flood relief.

Rain storms during July affected multiple parts of Washington. On July 26, storms triggered flash flooding along 200 West by the highway. Earlier that month parts of Coral Canyon and homes along Scenic Drive were also hit with flooding.

Accusations of neglect

This could have been avoided,” said Leo Tobler, one of the 200-West flood victims.

Tobler said the flooding along 200 West came from storm waters that ended up draining into Warm Springs, also known as “The Boilers,” on the west side of Interstate 15. Warm Springs is a continuous spring that feeds water to the east side of the highway through a pipe underneath it. When the floods hit Warm Springs, they went through the pipe and charged towards 200 West. As a result, multiple homes lost landscaping while others had basements flooded.

However, this wouldn’t have happened, Tobler said, if the city had been more proactive in maintaining the drainage areas. He said drainage areas had been allowed to become clogged with mud and silt from previous floods over the last eight years. A large amount of debris had also been allowed to get caught in the fence along I-15. The drainage path for the water that hits Warm Springs passes through the fence.

Because the water wasn’t able to readily pass through the fence, it backed up and ultimately found its way to 200 West, Tobler said.

“The bottom line is this flood could have been avoided,” he said.

Once leaving Warm Springs, the water would have spilled over into the Utah Department of Transportation’s right-of-way along I-15, and been carried down to the Millcreek Canyon area. There was some concern expressed that the natural channel on the UDOT side of the fence wasn’t being maintained either.

Mike Shaw, public works director for Washington City, said the city needs to contact UDOT and get permission to do anything concerning the fence or else risk federal penalties.

Though permission is needed, Todd Abbott, UDOT roadway operations manager for the area, told St. George News that UDOT and Washington have a great working relationship. When the city calls and needs to go to work, they are typically able to do so with little trouble, he said. This was one of those Mother Nature deals of an emergency nature, Abbott said.

He had approached the city before July 26 about future flooding concerns, Tobler told the council, but he said that his words “fell on deaf ears.”

It’s nothing but the city’s fault,” resident Rex Torgenson said yelling. He said he has been following the city’s drainage problems for 15 years. When he went to the city, he said, he was told to go home and that “you don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Rain: Too much too fast?

The city clears out drains and flood channels in anticipation of the summer monsoon, Shaw said, as well as whenever news of a major storm system is predicted. Despite this preparation, the floods happened anyway.

Shaw said 2 inches of rain fell on Washington in 30 minutes, producing flooding that overwhelmed the current drainage infrastructure of the city. The rain “came down so fast and so hard” there was little anyone could have done to stop it, he said.

Around The Boilers is a problem,” Shaw said, the city and UDOT had worked together to possibly fix the drainage troubles.

As for future storms, Shaw said he felt the work done after the floods will be able to handle “the next significant flood event.”

Council responses

The council listened as residents shared their concerns, stories and photos related to the flooding.

One resident said the city council appeared to worry more about other parts of the city rather than downtown where the flooding occurred. However, others also reminded the council of the flooding along Scenic Drive and in Coral Canyon.

Residents have been paying a surcharge on their water bills since 2004, Tobler said, a surcharge that was supposedly being applied to issues related to better drainage and flood protection. “We wouldn’t be here if these items were followed,” he said.

“We move into a city for essential services,” Councilman Ron Truman said, and added the city should perhaps focus parts of its budget more on infrastructure than “leisure and play.”

At one point during the meeting Mayor Ken Neilson asked residents to calm down after one stood up and raised his voice in the faces of Shaw and Lester Dalton, the city’s project manager.

“Do you really think they planned for the rain to come down on you?” Neilson said. “We’re trying to do the best we can do, but sometimes we miss.”

“Hopefully we learned our lesson.” Councilman Bill Hudson said.

Possible relief

“We’ve established this is a city problem,” said St. George resident Kevin Pollock, who was speaking on behalf of his mother whose home in Washington was flooded. “What help are we going to get?

Seegmiller said residents affected by the flooding could contact the city recorder and file a claim.

Wednesday’s meeting was a combined work meeting and regular council meeting in accommodation of the primary elections this month. The residents’ concerns and attending discussion were heard during the “work meeting” portion; therefore no immediate council action was taken to  address the flooding issues. No date was set for further discussion or action.

Related posts:

Ed. note: Requested clarification made.

Email: mkessler@stgnews.com

Twitter: @MoriKessler

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2013, all rights reserved.

200 North 200 West, Washington City, Utah, July 26, 2013 | Photo by Cody Pitcher for St. George News
200 North 200 West, Washington City, Utah, July 26, 2013 | Photo by Cody Pitcher for St. George News

 

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7 Comments

  • Paul Jensen August 15, 2013 at 2:35 pm

    If the city had been more pro-active in maintaining their drainage system this wouldn’t have happened. Now that it’s over they are busy being post-active in opening up storm drains that have been buried under mud and weeds for years and putting in new drains. Case in point look at the huge old drain that was uncovered along Buena Vista, north of Main St.

    What’s being done to take the water away from the West side of Buena Vista and getting it to the East side where this huge drain is located. Right now all the water comes down the West side of the road from the new sub-division that is being developed and dumped into my back yard which has caused me to be flooded three times this year alone. The last time we lost all of our carpets due to the watery muddy mess.

  • DoubleTap August 15, 2013 at 2:44 pm

    Washington City residents should learn from St. George residents…especially during a municipal election cycle. As in the deplorable conditions of that city’s animal shelter was/is in, it merely took the residents to voice their concerns to get the animal shelter up to better standards. Washington residents want the flooding issues addressed BEFORE the next monsoonal rains….make it a campaign issue. There are those who want to get elected. This should get interesting.

  • Glad I don't live there August 15, 2013 at 4:55 pm

    Sure does appear that there are a lot of problems within the city government in Washington. Seems to me that some of these local bureaucrats need to be thrown out on their rear, by their political bosses. And if the political bosses are not willing to do this, then they need to be thrown out by the voters.
    These “little people” that work for the city, have just gotten “too big for their britches.”

  • Alvin August 16, 2013 at 6:27 am

    In order to “solve” a future monsoon rain flooding problem, millions of dollars would need to be spent to study, design and construct the necessary storm drain systems to help this problem. I think the city already knows this, but how and where does all this funding come from? Help give the city ideas to find a few million laying around to construct what needed instead of throwing out the same old rhetoric of finger pointing and childish comments. Go ahead, ask the city how many millions of dollars would it take to help this not happen again. Then maybe you would understand the financial pickle they are in.

    • DoubleTap August 16, 2013 at 9:10 am

      Really??? How did the City of Washington manage to come up with funds for the purchase of the Covington Mansion in their city? It just gets used to house the City Youth Council, which does not contribute financially to the City. However, they are responsible for the maintenance of the Mansion…so I guess there is some form of “contribution”. And if the Water dept. has been “extracting” a fee for flood water management for a couple of years….where are those funds going to? A lot more questions remain than answered.

  • Darren September 1, 2013 at 4:28 am

    It’s clear these people have never taken an Intro to Geology course. If you build in a flood area, you’ll get flooded. Plain and simple. It’s not the city’s fault. Water comes off the mountains and cliffs, and flows downhill (gravity sucks). You can try and regulate the course of the water all you want, but the water will take the easiest path, tearing through anything in its way. If you don’t like the odds that you’ll be flooded or have rocks slide off the ridges into your backyard, the answer is simple…move somewhere that’s not at risk.

    • Dan October 19, 2013 at 4:32 pm

      I would agree with you if this was a naturally occurring phenomena, but there was nothing natural about this flooding and it is the city’s fault. These people’s homes are not in a floodplain and were built 40+ years ago. In that time they have never flooded. The problem is the city has allowed building around the area that took away natural drainage channels. Then, the city did not maintain the new channels that were dug years ago to allow any floodwater to safely drain away. The result: this summer’s rainwater was forced into the city, down the roads, and into people’s homes. The frustrating part is that the residents warned city employees days before the flood happened and begged them to fix the problem. They were basically ignored and then got flooded. You can imagine that caused some angry feelings. The channel has since been cleaned and the problem solved.

      When you say this situation is “plain and simple” and “gravity sucks,” I think you were speaking without knowledge.

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