“I’ve got really unhappy tenants,” he said. “My one tenant has been there for 38 years. I must be a pretty good landlord. So I listened to your technical part. What are you going to do? What do you propose to do?”
“What’s going to be done about the property owner? There’s no profit, it’s gone this year — 658 (Ross) is not a profit producer. I was just starting to regain from the last flood. Now, what is the city going to do?”
Wurst, 88, told city officials: “If something isn’t done, I am personally going to interview every person on both sides of the street, from the 600 block on Ross and Millville Avenue, clear to the river. I’m going to find out how many people live there, I’m going to find out who the property owners are, and I’m going to find out what it’s costing them.”
The city still is formulating plans for what it will do, but Wurst’s door-to-door survey apparently won’t be necessary, because City Manager Joshua Smith announced after Wurst spoke that he and Public Works Director Rich Engle in coming days will walk the area themselves and speak with property owners.
To examine ways to prevent flooding on Ross and Main Street, "We can execute a professional services contract with an engineering firm fast," Smith said.
“I think we can have that executed easily in the next 1o days,” he said Wednesday evening. “We will start very, very fast on that issue. There’s no doubt, just from empirical observation, we have an issue in that area. I mean, every time there’s a heavy rain, it floods that area.”
Smith said what he and Engle learn from property owners will be incorporated into the engineering contract.
The city also is working to better identify exactly how many basements were flooded. So far, the city knows of only 26 cases where basements were flooded on June 26, because that’s how many people informed them. Officials have not yet released information of how property owners can report their flooding to the city, so officials can examine what caused those owners’ problems. Information about how to inform the city should be released in coming days.
"There's no doubt that we have probably been more reactive than proactive in the past in dealing with these issues," Smith said. "Let's make a commitment that by the last meeting in July … we'll come back with a more formal plan. We will certainly focus on Highland Park, and as we get information out to the public, we get other areas that we may not be aware of, we will certainly put those on the priority list also."
Public Utilities Director Kevin Maynard said much of the problem with basement flooding was caused by building downspouts being improperly connected to the sanitary sewer system, which conveys sewage from sinks and toilets, overwhelming the sanitary sewers and sending sewage into basements.
Maynard noted city ordinances require that sump pumps and downspouts be disconnected from sanitary sewers. City laws allow officials to provide 50 percent of a property’s disconnection costs, up to $1,000 per property in some circumstances, he said. The city plans to allocate $250,000 to help owners with costs.
The city, which cleans about 10 percent of its sewer system annually, will look into speeding that work to eliminate clogs. It also visually inspects 8 percent of the sewer system every year, another thing the city in coming months will consider accelerating. The city also puts linings in about 4 percent of sewers each year to prevent leakage of water into them during storms. That rate also may be increased.
Some property owners said they believed development uphill of the Main Street area is to blame for flooding, because farmland that used to absorb rain has been replaced by subdivisions and buildings that send water flowing downhill to the area.
“You definitely have our attention,” Mayor Pat Moeller told residents last week. “We’re definitely going to be proactive.”
Moeller also said: “We’re gathering information, we’re directing financial resources. We have our best people on this.”
After he left the meeting, Wurst was hopeful and cautious at the same time: “I at least know that somebody’s thinking, and doing something about it.”