Though the city of Mobile approved a new stormwater management plan July 8, one dismayed Mobile resident wonders when or if change will ever come.
Barbara Sellers, who lives on Jennings Drive in Mobile, said she has been dealing with a clogged drainage ditch in her backyard for years. The ditch, with 10 feet on either side belonging to the city of Mobile, is clogged with uncut grass, trees and brush.
The ditch drains an area around Airport Boulevard that includes the malls near I-65. Sellers said the lack of maintenance worsens flooding issues she already experiences in the flood-prone area.
“They used to cut it regularly,” Sellers said. “We never had this problem with this ditch.”
Sellers said problems with the ditch’s maintenance began during the administration of former Mayor Sam Jones.
“He’s the one who stopped them from cutting it,” she said.
Sellers said she wrote letters and made numerous phone calls to city officials. Her efforts have garnered no response thus far.
“I’ve lived here for more than 55 years,” Sellers said. “We’ve never had to call about anything.”
Since taking office in November 2013, Mayor Sandy Stimpson has been working to improve litter control and now, stormwater management.
According to the city of Mobile website, “Mayor Stimpson is dedicated to making sure everyone who calls city hall with a request is treated to excellent citizen service” through the Mobile 311 call center.
“The people at 311 have been really nice, but nothing has been done,“ Sellers said.
Dianne Irby, who serves as executive director of planning and development for the city of Mobile, said once a citizen calls any problem into 311, a Service Request Order (SRO) would be generated and sent to the appropriate department. A clogged storm drain can usually be cleared by public works, but public works may call on engineering if assistance is needed for more serious issues, Irby said.
Regarding maintenance of the city’s drainage in particular, Irby said “that is a complex issue and one we are addressing through several departments.”
“When the Mayor put forth the amended 2014 budget one of his key objectives was to return the city to financial stability so we could invest in the needed capital projects, infrastructure and equipment,” she said. “This also impacts services. It took years for the city to get behind in maintenance and capital expenditures, and while this administration knows it will not be an easy fix or an easy solution in the near term, we are moving as expeditiously as possible. The response times for repairs and the lack of adequate funding to restore or replace our aging infrastructure is something we work on daily and we are in the process of reviewing needs and priorities for the upcoming 2015 fiscal year and budgeting process.”
The stormwater ordinance is an important part of Stimpson’s commitment to cleaning up Mobile, Irby said. The ordinance matches the requirements of the city’s new National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit that should be issued in September.
Irby said the stormwater ordinance in combination with the recently amended litter ordinance will help with cleaner water in Mobile Bay and surrounding rivers, creeks, tributaries and streams.
The city is also putting forth a plan to outsource major thoroughfares for grass cutting with the intent to relieve city’s manpower and allow them to focus on the rest of the city.
“As the city employees are asked to do more with less, we are rethinking ways to prioritize and provide services,” Irby said. “We’re focused on tackling the backlog that exists and are looking for ways to improve delivery of services while concurrently looking for financial investments in capital projects.”
City engineering has a long list of projects in need of funding and those issues will be discussed during the upcoming budgeting process, Irby said. Through stormwater planning, the city also plans to place a litter trap on Dog River and purchase a litter boat, though those specifications and details have not yet been developed.
“Over the next several months we will be holding numerous meetings with different business and citizen groups to answer questions about the ordinances and the impact of increased enforcement,” Irby said. “As it relates to policy, both of these ordinances [stormwater and litter ordinances] have increased enforcement measures and there has been extensive training internally so more employees can be of assistance as we monitor and improve on litter and storm water problems in the city.”