19th St. ‘low spot’ misses stormwater cut

       When Westsiders join the rest of the city in paying fees for storm drainage upgrades sometime next year, they may be comforted to know the money is earmarked to include six major projects in their area.
       However, a fix for arguably the most prominent Westside flooding problem - the low spot on 19th Street, in the three blocks north of Uintah Street across from Uintah Gardens - is not on the current list.
       The low spot gets high water anytime there is a heavy storm, and a city streets official prevously told the Westside Pioneer this is related to antiquated storm drains.
       Mike Nelson, whose barber shop has been on 19th between Henderson Avenue and Glenn Avenue since 1997, commented, “Every year we get cars floating by.”
       The drainage has been compounded in the last three years by the construction of the 60-unit Madison Ridge development up the hill from 19th Street, although there is no clear measurement of how much.
       Trinity United Methodist Church minister Jerry Boles, a former real-estate developer believes it's a lot. He has photos of water from Madison Ridge streaming down onto the church property during construction and contends that structural settling issues started in the past three years because of such uncontrolled drainage. A tour of the church showed such problems as wall and ceiling cracks, doors no longer square, windows not opening, floors not lining up and a furnace that had to be raised because of water seeping in around it. A significant point, Boles believes, is that the main problems are in the newer part of the building, which is closer to Madison Ridge, not the 44-year-old original structure. “I've never seen anything like this,” he said.
       Tom Benkert, project manager for Harmony Springs Land Management, asserts that Harmony has built to the city-approved drainage plan for the project. Although conceding that water escaped during a few heavy rains, “that didn't cause their (the church's) problems,” he said. He has offered to do some repairs to the church property, but not to the extent the church would like.
       In any event, with the work now virtually complete, all water from Madison Ridge should be going into the project's detention pond, Benkert said. The pond is not intended to hold water; “it lets the sediment settle down and releases the water at a much slower rate,” he said. Released water comes out onto Glenn Avenue and down to 19th.
       Frank Helme, a city stormwater inspector, found no issues with Harmony's construction practices. He even praised the company for putting in a silt fence “that wasn't on the plan.” Dave Lethridge, a city engineer who is part of a staff team that reviews new- project plans, said the Madison Ridge plan met current city drainage-control requirements.
       A tour of the Laura Belle's building, which is directly downstream from the church, shows similar cracking problems. Water reportedly comes up through the floor at times. However, with a recent change in the ownership of the property, it is not known how long those issues have existed.
       What is known is that at the bottom of Glenn are two catch basins leading to storm drains that have proven incapable of moving high volumes of water quickly. After a flood that blocked the street for about an hour in July 2004, Randy Zettlemoyer, city street operations manager, told the Westside Pioneer that most of the storm drains in that area are 24 inches (as opposed to 36 inches nowadays) and built 50 to 80 years ago. He said “serious money” would be needed to install a proper system to drain 19th and the other Westside streets that drain eventually into Fountain Creek.
       Barely a block north of the low spot is the city's 19th Street detention pond. It is one of the 24 projects that a committee of citizens and city officials deemed “critical” on a $295 million list of stormwater needs. Nelson recalled that in the big rains of 1999, the pond filled all the way to the top.
       Yet even when the pond is repaired, it's uncertain how much relief it will provide to the 19th Street low spot. The crown on the street means that water coming down the gutter on the west side of 19th will continue past the pond. And the pond is upstream from Madison Ridge.
       Other Westside projects on the critical list are the 31st Street drainageway through Pleasant Valley, the bridge at 8th Street, the bridge at 21st Street and the detention pond at King Street. However, City Stormwater Engineer Ken Sampley noted, the list “is constantly changing.” All that City Council has done to this point, Councilman Jerry Heimlicher explained, is to authorize creating the enterprise. He estimated it will not be until late 2006 before all the administrative niceties - not the least of which is how to bill different people based on how much stormwater their properties generate - are worked out. The estimated cost per household is expected to average $7.50.
       Asked about the 19th-Glenn issue, Sampley said it is hard to fix all the localized flooding problems. “There are places like 19th Street all over town,” he said. In a heavy enough rain or snow melt, “even areas that are designed for updated criteria” can get overwhelmed, he added.
       Kim Karr, a long-time city water engineer, said that to get a true handle on fixing city stormwater problems, a comprehensive new hydrologic study is needed to identify exactly where the water flows.
       Boles and his congregation at Trinity United Methodist don't need a study to see which way the water has been flowing in recent years. Damage estimates for the building are at least $6 million, he said. He also questions how well the city looked out for the church during construction. Apparently ignored, he contends, is an easement for a drainage ditch between the church and what is now Madison Ridge that was mandated by a 1983 ordinance. The ditch's removal meant there was nothing to stop the run-off, Boles noted.

Westside Pioneer article