Protecting flood-prone areas in New Castle County [video]

The urban flooding that takes place in Delaware City and other communities along Route 9 is becoming a big problem, but what can be done?

Delaware City residents fear the flooding effects of raging waters from severe storms.

“It’s our number one challenge in Delaware City,” said Richard Cathcart, city manager. “Evidently, over the years — I’ve only been here 2 years — it’s gradually gotten worse.”

In the last two years, Hurricane Irene and Superstorm Sandy caused huge problems for the city, requiring evacuations for the first time in history. Cathcart says the city has been divided into four quadrants where the level of flooding varies. One flood-prone section is near Washington Street.

“We’re now developing what the mitigation action should be for those areas that we kind of identified, and then an actual follow-up to that,” said Cathcart, describing the work stemming from a coastal management grant awarded a couple of weeks ago.

Unfortunately the solutions to least two problem areas are estimated at a cost of $1.2 million — too costly for the 1,700 people living there. Cathcart says that to burden residents with the costs to control flooding is out of the question.

“We don’t believe it’s our responsibility,” he said. “So we looked at DelDot, who has part of the responsibility, as it relates to the roads. Then we looked to DNREC for the other issues, and they’d point at each other and say it’s that person’s responsibility.”

Rising danger

Residents of Wilmington’s Southbridge neighborhood were evacuated because of Hurricane Sandy as well. Flooding here is considered a geographical problem. It’s a major concern for disabled veteran Jackson Grimes.

“The area we live in is listed as a 100-year flood plane,” Grimes said, “but due to the razing of South Market Street, and due to the increased frequency and severity of storms, what used to be a 100-year flood plane, is becoming an annual flood plane.”

That frequent flooding has temporarily shut down services at One Village Alliance, a nonprofit organization that offers the community a number of much needed resources to help people like Jackson.

“It seems like this is a specifically low area of South Wilmington, and it’s impossible to get through the intersection to get here, or to pass the intersection to get out,” said Chandra Pitts of One Village Alliance. “At times, all three access points that would lead you to our building are all flooded.”

Looking for solutions

Meanwhile both Jackson and Chandra often meet with the South Wilmington Planning Network to address flooding issues. So far, there have been a lot of different ideas regarding the low lying portion of the city where pools of water come from the Christina River but there’s still no resolution.

“I really just want city officials and community officials in the neighborhood to really use their voice,” said Pitts, “use the position, and use the opportunities they have to make a change in the community, and act with a level of urgency

To date, there have been studies done to deal with drainage issues in Southbridge and some fixes have been attempted, but Councilwoman Hanifa Shabazz says the newly formed flood mitigation design team is looking at what else can be done to prevent future flooding.

As for Delaware City, Cathcart is still hoping that the state will step up and take on more responsibility to provide a fix for flooding problems there.

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