Wednesday’s Chapel Hill Town Council Work Session included extensive discussions about the flooding of areas along Bolin Creek and updates on ten sidewalk projects around the town.
Matthew Sullivan, Chapel Hill Fire Department chief, discussed the many challenges of addressing the flooding issue. Sullivan said Chapel Hill’s topography, as well as construction in flood-prone areas before regulations, are the biggest obstacles to preventing flooding.
“Some infrastructure goes over the flood plain and we don’t know what types of piping and other infrastructure exist over there,” Sullivan said. “We can address flooding today by planning.”
By using public funds and grants received from the federal government, the town can work to improve conditions in the floodplains, he said.
“We can expect some improvement but there will always be flooding,” Sullivan said. “I don’t think we can out-engineer this problem.”
In March 2014, the town received funds from the federal government through the FEMA Hazard Mitigation Planning Program. Through an extensive application process, the town chose four areas that will use this money to fix flooding issues. There is a state-mandated maximum of $276,000 per area.
“We’re not wishing for a disaster, but if there is, we will jump on the opportunity (for more federal funds),” Barry McLamb, Chapel Hill emergency management coordinator, said. “Our goal is to make Chapel Hill less vulnerable.”
Some measures the town can take to prevent flooding include maintaining stream and drainage systems, continuing community education and having good emergency preparedness protocols, he said.
In Chapel Hill alone, there are more than $259 million worth of buildings at risk of flooding, said Kirby Saunders, emergency management coordinator for Orange County. That equates to roughly 209 properties.
“This represents a large group of people that are affected by flooding,” Saunders said.
Including the Rosemary Street Improvement Project, work is underway on ten major sidewalk projects throughout the town, which are funded through $16.2 million set aside from the 2015 Chapel Hill Bond Referendum.
These projects were chosen from an extensive master list created in 2011 that included more than 100 potential projects.
“Our main factors for picking a project included proximity to schools, parks and transit stops,” said Chris Roberts, manager of engineering and infrastructure. “We’re also changing our design manual to include parameters for the visually impaired.”
It takes a minimum of 410 hours to train emergency personnel for flooding situations. Currently the town has enough resources to fund 15 flooding rescue personnel.
“It would be great if we could keep people from getting flooded out of their homes and dealing with this every year,” said Mayor Pam Hemminger, when addressing the challenges of relocating residents from flooded homes.