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In deep water: When it rains, some residents feel swamped

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Posted on: February 8, 2012

BY SUSIE CURRIE — About 25 residents met recently to discuss the flooding that has plagued their neighborhood for years.

This picture from 1993 shows flooding on Banner Street. Because sidewalks installed there that year are higher than residents' front yards, the scene is repeated every time it rains, according to residents, who are still waiting for remediation nearly 20 years later. Photo courtesy Doug Dudrow.
These pictures from 1993 show flooding on Banner Street. Because sidewalks installed there that year are higher than residents’ front yards, the scene is repeated every time it rains, say residents. Photos courtesy Doug Dudrow.

The area, which some call “Soggy Bottom,” is bordered by 40th Avenue and Crittenden, Banner and Buchanan streets. It includes a trailhead used to access Magruder Park.
The January 23 public meeting was led by Julia McTague, who was assigned to manage various city engineering projects in August. Photographs of the situations causing the drainage problems were on display, but many residents seemed not to need the visual aids.
“When it rains, my yard turns into a swamp,” said Chris Salazar, of the 4700 block of Banner Street. “And my neighbor’s turns into a lake.”
That problem dates to 1993, when the sidewalks there were raised to allow space for tree roots. But they were raised higher than residents’ yards, so water that should have flowed onto the street from the sidewalks instead formed pools on private property.
“Some [homeowners] couldn’t even open their front gates because the sidewalk was in the way,” recalled Doug Dudrow, who represented Ward 1 at the time and met with neighbors there. He became so frustrated with the lack of attention to the problem that he hired a lawyer to contact the city’s insurance company about it.
“I couldn’t understand why [Public Works Director Dan Jones] didn’t call the contractor back to fix it,” said Dudrow.
Since then, neighbors have given tours of problem areas to all four of Jones’ successors, as well as to County Councilmember Will Campos and City Councilmember Candace Hollingsworth.
Robert Duncan, who lives on Buchanan Street, recalls former DPW director Lee Henry coming to Banner Street and showing neighbors “a set of blueprints that laid out the plans for putting in [two] new street drains.  …  He also discussed city plans to cut down all the trees that were in the way of road improvements.”
Several trees were indeed removed after that. But, Duncan said, it took “about five years before any other street work was ever done.”
Another longstanding drainage problem is at the end of Crittenden Street, where a trail leads to Magruder Park.  In the best of times, it’s a silt crater. But rains form a pond there that can be hard to ford for pedestrians headed for Trumbule Trail or the soccer fields.
McTague said the current proposal from BAI, the contractor, calls for installing a rain garden at the trailhead. After the public meeting, she asked for additional revisions.
“The next step is to take it before the council to seek funding for the design work,” she said.
More recently, drainage on neighboring blocks has been improved somewhat, with the installation of two storm drains and riprap, a sloping layer of stones that help prevent erosion.
But, said McTague, “It still appears that water isn’t draining properly. It appears that there’s room for improvement.”
Many in the crowd seemed to agree. Hollingsworth, who represents Ward 1, wrote residents’ concerns on a whiteboard as they surfaced. By the end, it was full.
“When residents express dissatisfaction to the level that they’re willing to sell their home and walk away from the mess that they were hopeful to get fixed, we have to fix it,” she said later.
Stuart Eisenberg, who lives near the trailhead, said he put together a list, complete with photographs, of 90 things to fix in the area. “I think the city has all the info it needs, and I have every confidence in Julia’s project-managing ability.”
When water has nowhere to go, it can affect roads and sidewalks as well as front yards. “Water can do a lot of damage to pavement,” explained McTague in an interview. “When you see cracks or potholes, that means water hasn’t been draining.”

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