North Raleigh residents want answers to growing flooding problems

ccampbell@newsobserver.comOctober 28, 2013 

— When Tony Lombardo bought his house in 1994, he thought the backyard creek was a nice amenity. Now a heavy rain turns it into what he calls a “raging river” that damages his property.

And as more homes are built upstream from Lombardo’s Hampton Oaks neighborhood off Ray Road, the problem is getting worse.

“In June, the first flood that we had wiped out my retaining wall,” he told a City Council committee last week. “It made my yard basically unusable. It flooded my garage.”

Lombardo is among numerous North Raleigh residents dealing with a growing flooding problem. While new neighborhoods on Raleigh’s outskirts are built with strong runoff systems to protect property, homeowners in the city’s older neighborhoods downstream aren’t as lucky.

“Every time a new development goes in, it has a significant impact on the folks that were there originally – the folks downstream,” said Councilman Randy Stagner, who represents North Raleigh and called for last week’s special committee meeting. “There’s no easy solution to this, and that’s why I’ve asked for the policy review and the resource review.”

Lombardo’s situation is a prime example of the stormwater challenges Raleigh faces as it continues to grow, as well as the conundrum facing the city’s established neighborhoods.

Lombardo says city officials proposed a solution to erosion problems around his creek. Through a cost-sharing program, he and several neighbors would pay $5,000 each, with the city picking up the remainder of the tab. But he said his neighbors don’t want to pay, which leaves him with a much larger bill to fix the problem. And the city’s solution, he says, doesn’t address the root cause: substantial runoff flooding the creek.

“I don’t think the cost-share program is fair when you get a problem like this,” he said.

City staff say the problem stems from a lack of stormwater regulation in Raleigh decades ago. The older neighborhoods weren’t built to handle today’s runoff.

“Our biggest problem now is not coming off new developments, as much as we had a lot of years where we didn’t have good controls in place,” Public Works Director Carl Dawson said. “We are, in a lot of ways, battling history.”

Dawson’s department currently has 63 minor drainage projects in the works at a cost of $3.75 million. Up to 20 projects can typically get done in a year. Thirty major infrastructure projects have secured $26 million in funding, but 13 others aren’t yet funded, Dawson said.

Dawson recommended that the council add more staff to the stormwater division to speed up the projects. But Stagner said he wants to look at doing more, possibly considering changes to how new developments handle rainwater runoff. He noted that incoming city manager Ruffin Hall has experience with similar issues in Charlotte and might provide new insight.

“It’s the big picture that I’m still looking for here,” he said. “I’d like somebody to take a look at how we get ahead of that.”

In the coming weeks, city staff will be compiling a list of problem flooding spots throughout the city to begin that process.

Campbell: 919-829-4802; Twitter: @RaleighReporter

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