Plans for Pennsylvania Avenue spring a leak

The concept of a pump to help alleviate flooding in Bethany Beach’s Pennsylvania Avenue area will have to be reconsidered, Town Council Member Harry Steele and Town Manager Cliff Graviet revealed at the April 21 meeting of the town’s Flood and Drainage Committee.

With an extensive survey of the area having been completed by Kercher Engineering Inc. (KEI), Graviet said, “We thought we could do more, but we found out we can’t.”

Steele reeled off a series of concerns that had derailed the project, with its concept of pumping floodwaters into the Loop Canal.

First is the simple impact of the additional water on the canal itself. Complicating that is the discovery that the canal bridge on Route 1 serves essentially as a stopper, preventing water flowing from the east side of the canal under the highway and away from the most flood-prone areas. That would mean pumping floodwaters into the canal would serve only to flood the canal itself and cause further problems for those residing on its banks.

It was further noted that most of the affected area lies essentially at or just above sea level. With the water table that high, the ability to eliminate or significantly limit flooding in the Pennsylvania Avenue area is severely curtailed. Graviet repeatedly emphasized that aspect of the problem, noting it is simply a reality for those living there and will necessarily limit what the town can do to help.

As it stands, the town continues to look at grading and a possible gravity-fed drainage system to try to alleviate the flooding as much as is feasible.

Previously discussed concepts for pumping floodwaters to the ocean were raised again at theApril 21 meeting, with the Loop Canal concept now rejected. But the price tag on such an option likely makes it equally unrealistic.

The Loop Canal plan was estimated at $1.9 million in cost, while the seaward pumping was indicated as having a cost in the “many millions” of dollars and well beyond the town’s budget — literally, as it would likely exceed the town’s entire annual budget.

Walsh noted that discussions had been held with the state’s newly formed drainage committee, with the possibility of some aid for the town’s flooding problems from that source in the coming three to four years. But Graviet disputed that possibility, noting that the state panel was aimed at tackling non-tidal flooding. He did say that the impact of heavy rainfall was under the purview of the state panel.

While the news regarding Pennsylvania Avenue was disappointing, work is proceeding on track for flooding issues in Bethany West. KEI is currently working on the final stages of a survey and developing a plan of attack for a comprehensive project that would deal with the entire community.

That plan was conceived to allow town employees to perform the bulk of the work on the project, with some few major elements farmed out to contractors. The cost estimate for the survey and planning is approximately $177,000, which does not include the subsequent implementation.

Graviet noted that he was comfortable the planning phase of the project was on its anticipated timetable, with only two or three projects expected to be too large for the town to handle in-house.

Steele emphasized that the extensive survey work was being done to anticipate where water does and should flow, while Graviet said the current work focus was on a design that would solve the problem, rather than simply continue to study it.

Public Works Supervisor Brett Warner noted that the bulk of the piping projects were not expected to impact home owners in Bethany West, the goal being to move surface water on the surface and not create a huge infrastructure.

The existing problems were largely attributed to the attitude held about stormwater issues at the time the community was built, allowing the problem to be essentially designed into the community by a lack of stormwater-related design elements.

Steele noted that some homeowners in the community had added to the problem over the years, by filling in drainage swales. He has repeatedly emphasized a need to get home owners on board with any drainage plan, to help prevent those kinds of problems in the future, and promised he would bring a full presentation to Bethany West homeowners once the town had received the plan.

The exact timetable for implementing the plan will be determined once it has been received, but Graviet said he expected an early summer start date. Warner noted that the project zone comprises “a huge area” and that it would take a “considerable amount of time” to complete the work.

One aspect of the work will be re-piping existing drainage areas as they run under driveways. Warner said that while homeowners will be asked to pay for the pipes for their driveways, the town will handle the installation work involved.

Again advising cautious expectations due to the height of the water table in Bethany West, Graviet noted that KEI had said the problems could only be solved “to a point.” He again pointed to the “reality of the community’s height” of 1 to 2 feet above sea level.

That means it is subjected not only to flooding from heavy rain, but also to tidal flooding, possible inundation from the ocean and a rising water table whenever water is pushed inland. The expectation for the project is that it will tackle major problems with standing water and not so much the issue of tidal flooding.

Again, Steele noted that the town’s drainage and flood-control efforts are two to three years ahead of the more recent efforts of the state.

On a side note, Warner mentioned that roadway patching was planned for some areas of Half Moon Drive — a temporary measure, rather than a long-term paving project, due to the anticipated impact of the drainage project on the community’s streets. A full repaving will be delayed until after the project is complete, he said.

But Warner also emphasized the success of the town’s recent work at Half Moon Drive and Collins Avenue, noting that it had significantly helped reduce standing water at the intersection. “You won’t ever see a dry ditch there,” he cautioned, pointing to the water table and the area’s history of generally being wet. But the improvement was noted.

Naturally transitioning from the issue of wet ditches, Warner also noted that a booming mosquito population was anticipated as warm weather settled in. He said town workers had made great effort to survey for areas of standing water and planned to treat them with small larvacide pellets approximately three times each week.

Bethany Beach acquired a new spraying truck last year, allowing it to spray for adult mosquitoes with less noise – something that Warner said had led to some complaints when home owners failed to notice the spraying was still being done. He said the town and neighboring Ocean View are at “the leading edge” of mosquito control and are the only municipalities in the area doing routine spraying.

Another plague of damp ditches is algae, and Warner said there was “an inordinate amount” currently in the town’s swales. He said the town had contacted a company that specializes in algae control and is certified to use a Department of Natural Resources-approved algae-killing chemical that is safe for fish. Left in its current state, Warner said, the algae prevents water from flowing and would stagnate in the ditches.

Warner did point out that algae flourishes in a nutrient-rich environment, which can be created when fertilizer applied to lawns is caught up in rainwater runoff and subsequently ends up in swales and ditches.

Flooding problems on Hollywood Street have already been tackled, most recently including the problematic meeting of town drainage and state ditches. Warner said state workers had connected a 12-inch pipe to a 15-inch pipe during previous work, causing problems with flow. The entire pipe system in that area was recently upgraded to 18 inches, he said, with inlets added and changes made to elevation.

He said the project had been going slowly but was close to complete with only paving left to be done.

Work on the town’s proposed bladder dam project has also proceeded slowly in recent months, plagued by yet another engineering loss. But Steele said KEI was reviewing the plan based on the data of the previous engineer, who decided to pursue missionary work in Africa. The next stage of the plan would be to consider hiring an additional engineer who could see the work through to possible implementation.

Work on clearing ditches on Oakwood Street is, in contrast, set to begin at any time. Warner said he had held off on actually starting the project to allow for additional feedback from homeowners.

Ditches on Central Boulevard were also recently cleared, but they were not planted with the temporary mesh grass often used to stabilize them, Warner noted. In the case of the Central Boulevard ditches, it was decided the mesh would too drastically affect their elevation and thus reduce their flow. Warner said grass would naturally appear in them over time. The mesh grass will, however, be used to stabilize the Oakwood Street ditches.

Warner said, “I think we will see great drainage improvement” as a result of the various projects being tackled by the town employees.

Concluding the meeting, Steele said he anticipated scheduling an additional committee meeting prior to the May town council meeting.

Alan Kercher of KEI had been unable to attend the April 21 meeting as expected and was thus unable to detail some of the information provided about the Pennsylvania Avenue and Bethany West project areas. The lack of a quorum also kept the committee from voting to move any of the issues forward to the council.

With an additional meeting set for some time prior to the May 20 council meeting, the committee would likely be able make their quorum and vote on any such issues for council attention.