Agencies cooperate to end flooding
Problem in Alabama, solution in Florida
By Connie Nowlin
Recent rains have made Atmore residents keep an eye on the sky, especially residents in the areas of the town prone to flooding.
A grant was awarded to the city to alleviate the problem, caused when the Pine Barren watershed is unable to handle rapid runoff.
That inability is increased, according to Mayor Howard Shell, by debris and underbrush clogging the watershed close to the Florida border.
Alan Nix, a building inspector with the Department of Community Development, said that watershed had been built 50 years ago and originally ended at Medical Park Drive. The water it handled was dispersed through the Briar Lake area. But a development grew up in that area and the county finally extended the waterway to the Florida-Alabama line.
Now that the $1.225 million grant has been awarded, the city is in a fact-finding mode and is busy surveying residents to discover where the water problems are the deepest.
"My understanding is that the money is already there," said Nix.
"Now we just have to justify it."
In order to do that, Nix has been working with the National Resources Conservation Service to explain the damages that have occurred and the expenses involved in making sure they do not happen again.
Many of the residents of the Briar Lake area experience water woes in wet weather.
One of those residents is Frankie Bell, whose house is on Briar Lake Drive. A drainage ditch that is part of the watershed runs along his back yard.
Bell said the fields uphill from his home drain into a second, smaller ditch that runs beside his place. That water then runs into the larger ditch and is channeled off down the watershed.
Backups occur, Bell said, when heavy rains fall north of the area and that water also has to travel the main ditch while water is being channeled into it from the Briar Lake area as well. Then the secondary ditch is delayed in draining or water actually diverts from the main waterway into the secondary ditch. It then runs down the middle of Briar Lake Drive until it reaches the main waterway at another point to the south.
In the meantime, water fills yards in the area, including Bell's own.
Nix echoed Bell's assessment, that the cause of the flooding was the watershed drains a lot of acreage, the county as well as in town.
"We haven't go an adequate outlet for the water to go to," Nix said.
That excess water concerns Bell because his home has a sunken den and in that room is a fireplace. The fireplace, in turn, has a door on the exterior of the chimney to allow the homeowners to clean out the ashes.
It could also allow water into the home.
When the yard fills with water, as was the case about two weeks ago, Bell said, it has gotten within a few inches of the door.
Engineers with the city have come out and looked at the situation, and told Bell that Florida was cooperating in improving the drainage dilemma.
Asked if he was going to attend the public hearing the city has planned for Thursday, he said probably not.
"They will do whatever they can to fix it," he said.
What the city wants to do is extend the waterway into Florida, which will require a coordinated effort from many different agencies.
Eventually, the water would disperse in a swampy area off Greenland Road in Escambia County, Florida.