To the editor:
When considering purchasing a house in Rosemont in 2015, I visited the engineering office at city hall. I was shown maps of the stormwater drain system, including the drawings for the two large conduits in Rosemont: Timber Branch and Hooffs Run. The staff described the city’s operations and maintenance plan for regular inspection and clean out of Rosemont’s conduits and other conduits throughout the City of Alexandria.
An inspection of Holmes Run had just been completed. The Timber Branch and Hooffs Run conduits were scheduled for near-term inspections. The stormwater tax on our real estate tax bill paid for the inspections and cleanings. This system had worked well for decades.
The city’s flood maps showed the flood risk in Rosemont as low based on this history. Long-time residents of Rosemont confirmed this, describing only two incidents of flooding, Hurricane Agnes and once when the entrance to the conduit was blocked by a fallen tree. The system had withstood other major hurricanes and many large rain events. We trusted the city’s information and purchased our house.
Then in July 2019, the first massive flood hit Alexandria, inundating Rosemont. Two more floods followed in 2020 with no response from the administration of Mayor Justin Wilson. A frustrated resident entered the Hooffs Run conduit and posted photos on Facebook of areas with blockages of more than 40%!
The resident also posted city photos taken in 2012 and 2015 showing the conduit mostly clear with a small increase of debris in 2015. I am not aware of any response to these photos from the city. Had the inspection and clean-out procedures been suspended?
The one action Wilson’s administration did take was to double the stormwater tax. With second and third floods in the summer of 2020, our anger was too much for Wilson to continue to ignore. An inspection was done, and the massive blockages were confirmed. Contractors were hired to clean out the conduits last fall. Although I realized we may be facing greater rain events, I believed that the clean-outs would help lessen the impact.
Last month, on Aug. 14 to 15, the most severe flood of all hit those along the Timber Branch conduit. The Hooffs Run neighborhood, after its clean-out, was not as severely impacted. Monday morning, I went to city hall to ask about the clean-out of Timber Branch. I found that the office that was so helpful in 2015 was closed. I was informed it had been moved to Duke Street but that the public was no longer admitted. I was given telephone numbers for two supervisors and a stormwater specialist for Rosemont.
I have left numerous calls and messages; not a single one has been returned. What I am trying to find out, among other things, is what happened to the inspection and clean-out of the Timber Branch conduit? What is the status of the inspection and maintenance of the other conduits and stormwater drains in other parts of Alexandria?
Inspection should not be difficult, as these conduits are big. I easily walked through 150 yards of the Timber Branch conduit after we moved in. I saw that it was well engineered. There are regular manhole covers for easy access and inspection. You do not need expensive, high-tech equipment for inspection; you can walk through.
The first step in addressing our flooding issues, which have only multiplied under Wilson’s administration, does not require consultations, engineers, permits or impact statements. Just take a look. Do regular inspections and if there is a blockage, clean it out before it becomes a problem. Think of the time and money this will save.
I could go on about Wilson’s paved-over urban density, destruction of green space, impervious landscapes and lack of any urban planning, but I am going to stop. I listened to the Wilson damage control self-congratulatory puff piece on the Kojo Nnamdi show recently. I learned he was having a wonderful time on his Vermont vacation and saw no need to return to help with the city’s crisis. The problem for us is: Sometime he will return.
-Richard Green, Alexandria