Pughsville drainage project moves forward

Published 6:25 pm Friday, January 7, 2022

Over objections from several Pughsville residents, City Council gave the unanimous go-ahead for the city to acquire property there as a step toward much-needed drainage improvements.

The objections raised during a public hearing at council’s Jan. 5 meeting centered around the city’s plan to buy a pair of occupied properties to build a stormwater pond in the area between Queen Street and Armstrong Avenue to help slow the water as it goes downstream and hits the outfall under Interstate 664, into Chesapeake, and moves toward the Elizabeth River and the Chesapeake Bay.

“Where that water flows under Town Point Road, that’s part of Phase I where we enhanced the drainage structures going under Town Point Road,” said Public Works Director Robert Lewis. “We’re picking all that water up plus some additional water, putting it into this pond. Now this pond doesn’t make the water magically go away, but what it does do is collect it and then slowly release it. … The total volume of water still has to go to the outfall, but the peak flow gets reduced quite a bit, so we’re not creating the flooding downtown.”

Lewis said the reason they need the multiple properties, including the ones that are owner-occupied, is because it needs enough volume for the stormwater pond to work, or else it will overflow and create additional issues.

Residents suggested that the city look at a different solution, but Lewis said the plan in place is the most feasible and best-suited for the project.

Wayne White, president of the Pughsville Suffolk Civic League said rather than the city taking two occupied properties for the stormwater retention pond, the city could use vacant lots on half of Queen Street and Armstrong Street for the retention pond.

“You said you couldn’t put a retention pond on a paper street,” White said. “Guess where you’re trying to put a retention pond? Right now, on a paper street, which is Armstrong. So what we’re trying to say, and I’ve brought it up to you before, Taylor Avenue is where all the water that comes from the park, crosses onto Clifton Street. If you would dig out Taylor Avenue and let it go down to where you’re talking about putting a retention pond, you wouldn’t have all the water coming down Clifton Street crossing over to John Street.”

Residents also had objections to the proposed work to be done on John Street.

“You wouldn’t even have any water going to Clifton Street or John Street if you dug out Taylor Avenue from the park,” White said.

Pamela Brandy, vice president of the Pughsville Suffolk Civic League, asked why the city wants to tear up John Street.

“Do you know how many disabled people live on John Street,” Brandy said, “how you’re going to affect them and their livelihoods to get in, or better yet, to help the care to come to them if you tear up all of John Street?”

Lewis said the two owner-occupied homes are older homes on a paper street and do not allow for further development on or around their properties, which is why they were chosen for the retention pond. He noted photos of flooding in that area with five to seven feet of flooding, with water up to the porches.

“To be honest, some of those homes were probably built in locations that, in today’s standards, may not have been permissible,” Lewis said. “They’re built right adjacent to a natural drainage way in a flood plain, but again, we can’t undo what was done in the past. We can only try to mitigate that in the future.”

Lewis also addressed comments about re-routing the water flow, saying the water at the park moves north up Town Point Road and falls into what’s called the Western Branch and comes back around.

If the water flow is shifted south down Taylor Avenue, he said, “what we’re doing is we’re actually going to dump it right into this drainage way that we’re already putting a pond in to try and make it better. So now all of a sudden, the volumes of water coming that way have gone up dramatically, so the size of that pond would have to go up dramatically to offset that.”

While council members said they regretted taking property from someone, they also said that with the longstanding flooding issues in Pughsville, the project would have a larger benefit to the village.

“In the past, we’ve talked about Pughsville, but nobody’s seen anything — ‘We’re tired of basically, what was considered lip service, and we want to see some action,’” said Mayor Mike Duman. “And that’s what you’ve got. You’ve got $7 million that’s being appropriated to mitigate the flooding issues in the community of Pughsville. That’s a substantial amount of money.”

The plan also calls for acquiring easements to put in a drainage trunk line on John Street.

From Town Point Road, new pipe that is going underneath the middle of John Street all the way to the outfall will catch water from numerous side ditches.

“We’re withdrawing a lot of that water that’s now running through the front yards and the back yards through this natural drainage way,” Lewis said, “and putting it in this enclosed facility and taking it to the outfall in a controlled manner.”

When complete, the stormwater pond and closed-pipe system is expected to reduce flooding and lower water levels in storm ditches. It is also expected to improve access to the neighborhood and by receiving stormwater quality credits for stormwater cost reduction on future projects.

The project, including its design, acquiring right-of-way and construction, is expected to cost just over $7 million — $2 million coming from American Rescue Plan Act money and another $5.034 million in city capital improvement money and Virginia Department of Transportation revenue-sharing money. The city has spent about $750,000 on preliminary engineering, and expects to spend nearly $3.3 million to acquire right-of-way and $3 million more on construction.

The last several hundred feet of the project will be in the Chesapeake part of Pughsville, so the contractor for the project will be working under its permit.

“The point is to fix the problem for everybody in that part of Pughsville,” Lewis said.

The project design is expected to be finished by March, when right-of-way acquisition will begin. In November 2023, the city will award a contract for the project, and it will not be complete until around May 2025.

Lewis said that as additional growth comes to the area, more homes are built and impervious areas increase, the city will have an adequate facility to take the drainage and carry it safely in an enclosed system to the Elizabeth River and into the Chesapeake Bay.

He said he wants to help make the community sustainable and allow for more homes. The project will help fix the drainage, but it won’t fix the issue regarding the number of private streets in Pughsville. City policy, he said, doesn’t allow for housing to be developed on a private street, something council may want to address going forward. He also said there could well be a need for a third and fourth phase of drainage improvements.

“This is not something that was taken lightly,” Lewis said. “We’ve just not flippantly said, ‘Hey, here’s the answer.’ Between the city staff, and our professional engineering consultants, they’ve spent a lot of time and a lot of effort, a lot of modeling, a lot of coordination between the city of Suffolk and the city of Chesapeake to try and come up with an answer that works, that will make that neighborhood better.”