Flooding reduction work underway in Avondale

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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — On Wednesday, county sewer workers and railroad representatives came together for a concerted effort to fix the drainage problem.

Business owners in Avondale are keeping sandbags close until they know it’s fixed for good.

“This morning we met on site out here in Avondale with the Alabama Tennessee River Railway and representatives from ATN were here. We had conversations yesterday with their office in Denver and in Gadsden,” said Don Lupo, City of Birmingham.

“…very cooperative so far.They said they’d be in here hopefully as soon as tomorrow with equipment and start cleaning out the ditch and cutting back the vegetation and then they promised ongoing maintenance and we’re just very thankful that uh, you know that we’re making some progress,” said Lupo.

“The problem is the drainage ditch here is full of silt, the retaining wall has fallen and probably reduced the water flow by 50%. Water needs to flow and with the rain that we had this past weekend it needs to move to its destination quickly. And when you reduce the flow by 50% and you’ve got silt in the bottom the water doesn’t flow easily and then it overtops the banks and you have flooding. So it’s…. and you know the rain that we had Sunday- it just overwhelmed the system period,” said Lupo.

“Flooding in Avondale has been an ongoing problem and I don’t know if it’s been two years or three years,” said Lupo.  “I know we have a series of letters from the legal department and from planning, engineering and permits that we have written to these railroads asking for their cooperation. We’ve told them okay don’t do it, let us do it and we were told no. So we’ve repeatedly asked for their cooperation and today we got it.”

Jefferson County sewer employees spent time snaking out the county lines Wednesday.

“Everybody’s been out here every utility company’s been out here Jefferson County Sewer’s been out here working on their lines. The city is looking into all of their lines. We’re cleaning all of our lines. We’re inspecting them all and you know we’re going to make this as good as we can make it,” said City Engineer Fred Hawkins.

Several business owners and employees are concerned that sewage may be spilling out into the streets whenever they flood.

“We don’t know of any sewer lines that are overflowing,” said Hawkins.

There is video of a manhole cover being pushed up by water in Avondale during the Sunday flooding.

Lupo says that is no reason to assume sewage is spilling out.

“Whose manhole? It could be their’s, it could be ours, it could be a storm or it could be a sanitary. Because a manhole cover blows up like they did on Sunday, that doesn’t mean that raw sewage is going into the street,” said Lupo.

Coby Lake with the Avondale Brewing Company shot the video of the flooded streets and manhole cover geysers. He is still very concerned about sewage contamination.

“The city’s and the county’s, they both have to work in sync in order for the whole system to work and if not you’re going to get sewage in the waterways it’s… it’s inevitable,” said Lake.

He is encouraged that work has begun on fixing the drainage problem.

“If the problem is not corrected the property is essentially worthless. You can’t sustain when you get flooded out every couple of months, but again I’m hopeful that the county, the city, and the railroad companies- they can work together to get this corrected,” said Lake.

“I think the video opened up the eyes of the railroad company and the city and Jefferson County Sewer Department to really see how bad it was down here, ” said Lake. “It was so deep and it was moving so quickly I mean somebody could actually drown.”

Just up the street between 1st Ave. S. And 1st Ave. N. there is another drainage ditch problem where a city owned culvert is falling apart and the road above it is collapsing. Hawkins doesn’t think it is connected to the flooding.

“We believe that’s a separate issue,” said Hawkins.

According to Lupo Norfolk Southern owns the two railroad lines which straddle the damaged culvert, but is cooperating to allow the city to repair it.

He says the culvert is the city’s responsibility, and the bridge over the culvert will be closed until it is fixed.

Anita Butler Assistant property manager at Impact Realty is also worried about sewage and while dealing with flood damage for the fourth time this year. The business has several fifty pound sand bags at the ready.

“Coming in on Monday we had payments floating in the water, we had cash floating in the water, debris, mud all over the office. This is the 4th time in less than two months that this has happened,” said Butler.

“We have our equipment now up and on wheels so we can move it, but we do have concrete floors so the water settles in different areas, primarily around my desk. It’s normally an island. When I come here they like to joke. When it flooded the first time, water came rushing in through our doors, we had no idea. The manhole blew, this was last month, I was on top of my desk.”

“We’re having to block our doors with before we leave in the afternoon because they’re just now working on it with everything,” said Butler.

She says Sunday’s flood alone cost them 2000 dollars.

As for the response?

“It’s still a lot of finger pointing. It’s you know the railroad’s fault it’s the city’s fault I mean it’s just going back and forth. We don’t really care who’s fault it is. We just need it fixed because there is there’s been a lot of investment in this area. It’s up and coming there’s lots of growth there’s more businesses that can move in and we’re in a point to where we’re going to move out,” said Butler.

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