Flooding should not be ignored

Published 10:08 pm Friday, July 13, 2012

Although there was no named storm over the Atlantic Ocean or even the Gulf of Mexico at the time, parts of North Suffolk got a taste on Wednesday of what the next hurricane to hit Hampton Roads might be like.

Unlike a hurricane, the winds associated with the storm that passed through Suffolk early Wednesday were not particularly significant. But as communities from the Outer Banks of North Carolina to New Orleans have learned, the worst part of a hurricane isn’t always the wind. The worst part can be the flooding that accompanies the storm.

On Wednesday, some North Suffolk communities found themselves underwater following the massive rains that passed through early that morning. This was no hurricane — not even a nor’easter — just a simple storm that dumped a lot of water in a short time.

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What it left behind was a mess. Cars in a parking lot at an apartment complex on Old College Drive were swamped because of a drainage problem that has left the city and the apartment complex management company pointing fingers at one another.

At the entrance to the Northgate Commerce Park at the intersection of Nansemond Parkway and Shoulders Hill Road, retention ponds overflowed and a pool formed that persisted through Friday. The water was so deep that most vehicles could not get through, causing many of the people employed in the park to miss work, depriving some businesses of customers and reducing the productivity of most of the businesses there.

A contractor charged with widening Nansemond Parkway and improving that intersection said Friday that it would work with the city to alter the design and improve the. We can only hope the contractor’s recommendations will be heeded.

But comments by a city official in charge of overseeing the work give us pause. Director of Public Works Eric Nielsen said installation of two new drainage pipes this fall would alleviate flooding associated with most rain. But what happened on Wednesday, he added, was a “one-in-10-year flood event” that would likely have been unavoidable regardless of the work that is done.

Nielsen’s assessment seems to ignore effects of the countless hurricanes and nor’easters Suffolk is likely to have within the next 10 years, each one likely to bring as much or more rain as North Suffolk had on Wednesday.

With Suffolk’s economic development officials working overtime to fill Northgate and the city’s other industrial parks, the city cannot afford to be seen as unresponsive to the needs of residents or businesses adversely affected by events such as those that shut down much of Northgate this week. Instead of a fatalistic approach, Suffolk should take a proactive one and work with contractors to develop a solution to the problem. Failing to do so could prove expensive for the companies already here and, ultimately, for the city itself.