Here's another tale of how staff in the City of Salem Public Works Department are failing to be open, honest, and transparent with citizens.
Earlier this year I reported that documents received from a public records request proved that Peter Fernandez, the Public Works Director, and other staff lied about why a property on Taybin Road in West Salem was slated for purchase.
Fernandez, et. al, claimed it was for stormwater management. Actually, it was to buy right of way for Marine Drive in an area that the City Council had declared off-limits for ROW purchases.
So the credibility of city staff when it comes to stormwater (and other subjects also, like trees) is very shaky.
Keep this in mind when you read how Lora Meisner, a community activist in the Battle Creek area, describes the controversy over how seriously the City of Salem is taking the risk of flooding in that area. (Last year I wrote "Tell City officials you want Battle Creek Park to be left natural," which relates to this issue.)
This is a complex subject. Thus after Meisner and I spoke by phone, she sent me this brief summary of what's going on here.
City: “We’re doing all we can, we’re going to dig up detention ponds on Battle Creek to hold the flood water.”
Taxpayers: “So you’re counting on detention ponds which may take years to put in place depending on if all funding comes through and if/when the city has time. Doesn’t it make more sense to turn off/turn down the water faucet instead of installing more bath tubs? What happens when bath tubs are full?”
City: “They’ll never be full and the groundwater that will come up into the ponds initially will slowly seep out into Battle Creek. We have a model that shows these ponds can handle it even with “full build out.”
Taxpayers: “Really? Isn’t this modeling based mainly on past data? Because if you were using 'climate change projected rainfall impact”\' from the First Street Foundation projections which are found on Realtor.com web site, they show a very different story. According to people who served on the Storm Water Committee, they were told about it but city staff hid this information because developers/realtors who served on the Committee wanted to keep the info under wraps so as not to impact real estate here in Salem. How can city officials justify this lack of transparency?”
City: “Because we paid big bucks to a consultant who, based on the information WE gave him, shows everything will be OK.”
Taxpayers: “So you’re not going to deal with turning the faucet off or turning it down even though several years ago 1 inch of rain equaled 1 foot rise in Battle Creek and now less than 1 inch rain equals almost a 2 foot rise in the streams. I guess our tax dollars should go to paying for math lessons for the Public Works Department."
Much greater detail about the flooding concerns of people in the Battle Creek area can be found in a letter regarding changes to the Stormwater Management Plan submitted by SGNA, the South Gateway Neighborhood Association, to the Mayor and City Council on September 21, 2020.
Download 9.21.20 SGNA Comments on Stormwater Management Plan
Here's an excerpt from the SGNA letter that talks about a key concern.
The FEMA flood maps for the Battle Creek Basin were developed from FEMA modeling done in the 1960s. This aged modeling has been used to regulate and approve the stormwater management in the basin for the past 50 years. Based on the 1996 and 2012 storm events SGNA residents have personal experience with how this planning has failed to protect the community.
The proposed Stormwater Master Plan looks at the Battlecreek Basin, for the first time using modern engineering methods, and identifies the issues that residents have stated to the Council and Public Works since 2007.
“The old plan is not working. The creeks are beyond capacity. Turn the water off, please!”
We encourage adoption of this Stormwater Master Plan as it relates to the Battle Creek Basin. The City Code needs to reflect the findings identified, particularly changes related to storm duration. The current Salem Code uses a “24 hour Design Storm” language. The research used to identify stormwater issues in the plan demonstrate the failure of this metric to reflect the type of impact the two recent storm events had on the community. We strongly recommend the use of a 72 hour 100 year storm metric with detention on sight [sic] of large projects when the flow rate downstream will be increased greater than 350 cfs beyond current conditions.
In other words, my understanding is that city staff are resisting making flooding predictions based on current knowledge about how global warming is affecting rainfall in our area. Around the country "100 year floods" are going to happen much more often, sometimes every year.
I took a look at some background information Meisner shared with me. A New York Times opinion piece shows the greatest risk from climate change faced by different parts of the country. Here's a screenshot for Marion County. The greatest risk is extreme rainfall.
Another New York Times story is called "New Data Reveals Hidden Flood Risk Across America." Here's a screenshot for Marion County. It shows the difference between outdated FEMA estimates and more accurate maps from the First Street Foundation.
I checked out the First Street Foundation web site. You can put in an address and get a Flood Factor estimate for that place. The web page wouldn't recognize the Battle Creek Park address (1680 Waln Drive SE) so I used the address for Battle Creek Elementary School instead (1640 Waln Drive SE).
Here's the result.
Bottom line: residents in the Battle Creek area appear justified in their concern that city officials are downplaying the risk of serious flooding in their neighborhood. Climate change needs to be taken into account when updating city ordinances and plans related to stormwater management.
If this means restricting development in flood prone areas, or increasing SDCs (System Development Charges) paid by developers, so be it. It isn't fair to have home and business owners pay the price when their property is flooded. The cost of mitigating extreme rainfall events needs to be shared equitably.