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.”
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.
“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.
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- UPDATED: Summer storm floods Coral Canyon homes; STGnews Videocast
Ed. note: Requested clarification made.
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