Residents press officials on drainage issues

Published 7:22 pm Friday, July 16, 2021

Residents at a recent community meeting pressed Suffolk city officials on drainage issues in their villages and a timeline for addressing them.

At a meeting of the Oakland-Chuckatuck Civic League held at Oakland Elementary School late last month, they expressed frustration with a lack of action and called for them to stop studying the issue and start dealing with it.

Numerous residents from Oakland, Chuckatuck, Eclipse and Pughsville, among the villages represented, detailed issues with flooding and sewage backups in their streets, yards and homes that date back decades, and say new development in the areas has only made their problems worse.

“We’re listening, we’re hearing you,” City Manager Al Moor said.

However, some of those same residents said they were tired of promises from the city to address it and want to see tangible action taken to alleviate, and ultimately eliminate, the problem.

In the city’s current Capital Improvements Program and Plan, it calls for $1.2 million to be spent in the current fiscal year and states the request “represents the continuation of a multi-year implementation strategy to prioritize, fund and complete safety and drainage-related projects that are currently underway and new initiatives subject to the objective analysis and evaluation of the Neighborhood Needs Assessment Tool.”

Interim Public Works Director Robert Lewis told residents he and several members of his staff had walked the streets in the Oakland and Chuckatuck areas in recent weeks, outlining positive and negative aspects about drainage in those communities.

“There’s a really good outfall for this water to get out of these communities and get away and get toward the creek,” Lewis said. “The downside is, I’ll be honest, drainage has not been maintained. It’s been neglected for a number of years.”

“Amen,” several residents at the meeting said in response.

Lewis said the city is paid by the Virginia Department of Transportation to maintain the transportation infrastructure, which includes drainage, but with the money spread out to uses over the 430 square miles of the city, every area doesn’t get its due attention.

“We’ve got some ideas (and) we’re beginning some studies,” Lewis said. “We’re actually engaging an engineering firm to help us make sure we can make this work.”

Lewis said he and other Public Works Department staff have been out looking at possible spots “that will hopefully allow that water to get out in the short-term.” Many of the needs he said he has heard about have not been on the roads.

“They’re off the roadway, they’re in the neighborhood, behind the houses, drainage ways coming out, or the drainage tries to get out and the ditch is not adequate to take it away,” Lewis said. “We’re trying to look at this comprehensively.

“So what I don’t want to do is I don’t want to go somewhere and dig the ditch deeper and you end up with a deeper ditch full of water. I want to start with the way that we can get this water to flow, which means we may have to go to the outfall and work our way back upstream to make it work.”

Earlier this month, Interim Deputy City Manager Kevin Hughes told City Council the city would direct $20.5 million of the $30 million it is receiving on American Rescue Plan Act money toward sewer, water and drainage projects in Oakland and make water and stormwater improvements in the Williamstown area and stormwater improvements in Pughsville, Pleasant Hill and South Suffolk.

Hughes said the city would look to expand the sewer system in Oakland and take residents off private septic systems without impacting sewer rates.

The stormwater improvements in Oakland would include improving the drainage in order to reduce flooding.

Moor said to expect some preliminary work to be done in the next two months.

“We’ll be having a lot of the survey work that we’re looking at from a drainage aspect probably by the end of summer,” Moor said. “And from there we can work on looking at what potential solutions we have.

“But in the meantime, also, if there’s other potential drainage opportunities, or improvements, that we can do from a maintenance aspect, we’re going to try and capture that too, so we’re going to be looking at this as we move forward.”

Hearing that, someone in the crowd asked Moor who to contact if nothing has happened by then.

Moor looked at him and said, “You can get in contact with me.”