Flooding, stormwater management and drainage have been the dominant issues during the public participation periods at the last two Fairhope City Council meetings, with residents seeking answers about an issue they say is the city’s responsibility to fix.
On Monday, Kathy Barr addressed the council about her parents’ flood-prone home at 705 Cedar Ave., which the family says has been inundated with flood waters 11 times in the last 20 years. The Barnettes sued the city in 2006 over repeated flooding and settled out of court for a cash payment of $27,000.
“They settled because it was too much for my dad to handle,” she said. “It was too much to ask for him to have to deal with a city that was not willing to help. I know there are some legal issues that go with it, but the city should care about what the citizens here have to endure.”
Barr is not the first member of the Barnette family to take the council to task over the issue. At its April 27 meeting, Barnette daughter Cecelia Muzik said her parents were in dire need of the city’s help.
Muzik, a teacher in the Atlanta area, said she drove six hours to attend the meeting. She is a former teacher at Silverhill Elementary School. She said her wheelchair-bound father is in poor health and her mother struggles to care for him.
“We have been dealing with this for so many years,” Muzik said. “Due to my parents’ health at this time, if there was another flood there’s no way that my mother could get the wheelchair and everything ready in time to get my daddy out.”
Muzik said her parents need a solution soon because of their health issues.
“Not only am I concerned about the ongoing flooding, we know the rains will continue to fall and hurricane season is approaching,” she said. “I am also concerned about the risks associated with the water damage from the last 20 years. The water gets in the walls and you can only imagine how bad the mold is from all those years [of flooding]. There’s a health risk that could cause problems for my parents.”
Council President Jack Burrell said Monday that after studying the 2006 lawsuit settlement with City Attorney Tut Wynne, he believes the settlement released the city of any future obligation to the family.
“It is easy to go back and just say, ‘this is legal jargon,’ but at that time, it released the city of all liability, then and forever,” Burrell said. “I understand that your dad settled because he was tired, but to me the settlement settled the matter.”
Mayor Tim Kant told Barr the city has applied for a FEMA grant to purchase the house and he expects to have an answer by July.
If FEMA approves the funds, which Kant said could be around $200,000, the city would use the money to purchase the home and demolish it. The property appraised at approximately $245,000 last year. If the FEMA funding is approved, the city would be required to pay a 25 percent match.
“Gov. Bentley said if the house meets FEMA’s requirements we can purchase it and remove it,” Kant said. “There would never be a house there again.”
Barr said other homes on Cedar Avenue have flooding problems as well, something she hopes the city will address.
“My parents aren’t the only ones who suffer,” Barr said. “The problem on Cedar Avenue is everywhere. There has to be a solution to this problem.”
Two others addressed the council Monday regarding flood issues.
Representing the River Oaks Homeowners Association, Stephen Pecot said the neighborhood was dealing with a broken drainage system and excessive runoff from adjacent developments.
He said River Oaks receives stormwater runoff from multiple neighborhoods because there are missing, broken drains that cause runoff the subdivision’s retention area. He said conversations with city officials had not proven fruitful.
“They keep telling us this is our problem, but we do not believe this to be the case,” Pecot said. “Our contention is that River Oaks is receiving drainage from three other developments and a city-maintained road with inadequate drainage systems. That places an unequal burden on our strained system.”
Pecot and River Oaks resident Cheryl Smith presented the council with photos they said show heavy flooding in the neighborhood after just four or five inches of rain. Pecot said in order to repair the drainage system in the neighborhood on their own, the 52 households would have to chip in for a total of approximately $25,000, which would be a strain on middle class families.
“Our biggest concern is finding someone at the city who will give us the time of day,” Pecot said. “We want to help the council in any way. Having a long-term solution that helps everyone will save money in the long run.”
Spring Run subdivision homeowners association representative Ken Graves said flooding occurs there during what he called normal rain events. He told the council young families move into the neighborhood, only to move after one or two years because of flooding.
Kant said the city’s “chickens are coming home to roost” because of 20-year-old retention ponds that are failing.
“I expect that we are going to find this is an issue in more and more places,” Kant said. “I don’t know what the immediate solution is, but we are going to have to address how we deal with stormwater moving forward. If one retention pond doesn’t work, the next one down the line will be impacted.”
Kant added that the city could work with homeowners’ associations and seek help from state legislators to deal with the problem.
“Fixing retention ponds can be very expensive,” he said. “This is an issue we will have to deal with going forward.”