Jack’s Creek issue raised

Published 1:54 am Thursday, September 15, 2011

A Washington resident, who said she was left homeless by flooding caused by Hurricane Irene, criticized the city for not having a spare generator to operate pumps used to lower Jack’s Creek during flooding associated with the hurricane.
Linda Witchell offered her criticism during the City Council’s meeting Monday.
Witchell, whose residence at 114 E. 12th St. was flooded during Irene, told the council she raised concerns about drainage in the Jack’s Creek basin with the city about 15 years ago.
“I was told to be patient and improvements would be made. Well, I don’t consider mandatory evacuation to be an improvement. … If the pumps had been working, I wouldn’t be homeless right now,” she said.
Witchell further amplified her complaint.
“I’m here to talk about the $3 million worth of pumps that without an alternate power source are essentially just expensive sculpture,” she said. “I do not understand why there is no backup generator. … They only answer I have received is that it’s too expensive. It would cost $100,000. Well, do the math. The city is losing at least $50,000 in revenue from those of us who know not to use our air-conditioning after the ductwork’s been under water. Two storms and the generator is paid for.”
Witchell continued her remarks.
“My issue is, even if it’s raining so hard the pumps are ineffective and the streets flood, if the pumps are on, the positive pressure keeps the creek out of my basement,” she said. “When the power goes out and the floodgates are open, water seeks its own level, which is 5 foot, 2 inches under my house, or about 10 inches from my floors.”
Witchell suggested having back-up power for the city-owned pumps at Jack’s Creek.
“In the meantime, perhaps Jack’s Creek could be pumped out before a storm,” she said.
Water from the creek was pumped out before Irene hit the area, city officials told Witchell. Those four pumps, including another 10-inch pump borrowed from the N.C. Department of Transportation, continuously pumped water from Jack’s Creek, except for a power outage the stopped the pumps for a period of time Aug. 27. Power was restored later that day.
After Witchell’s remarks, City Manager Josh Kay discussed the city’s preparations for the storm.
“I will say that we did pump Jack’s Creek well below river levels. … At one point in time, Jack’s Creek was approximately 2 feet below sea level while on the other side of the pump the river itself was 2 to 3 feet above sea level,” Kay said. “So, what that allowed us to do is (provide) a tremendous amount of storage capacity for Irene. Again, and I don’t want to rehash it, the severity of Hurricane Irene was tremendous.”
Kay reminded the council that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported 13.11 inches of rain fell on Washington during the storm, with some people reporting “well over 16 inches.”
Kay acknowledged the pumps do not have back-up power supply, something city staffers have discussed in recent days.
“The estimate (for a reserve power supply) that we have is well over $100,000. It’s closer to $600,000,” Kay said. “Of course, we are approaching FEMA about the possibility of them assisting us in the purchase of that generation unit. … With that being said, Ms. Witchell brings up some valid points, valid concerns.”

About Mike Voss

Mike Voss is the contributing editor at the Washington Daily News. He has a daughter and four grandchildren. Except for nearly six years he worked at the Free Lance-Star in Fredericksburg, Va., in the early to mid-1990s, he has been at the Daily News since April 1986.
Journalism awards:
• Pulitzer Prize for Meritorious Public Service, 1990.
• Society of Professional Journalists: Sigma Delta Chi Award, Bronze Medallion.
• Associated Press Managing Editors’ Public Service Award.
• Investigative Reporters & Editors’ Award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Public Service Award, 1989.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Investigative Reporting, 1990.
All those were for the articles he and Betty Gray wrote about the city’s contaminated water system in 1989-1990.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Investigative Reporting, 1991.
• North Carolina Press Association, Third Place, General News Reporting, 2005.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Lighter Columns, 2006.
Recently learned he will receive another award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Lighter Columns, 2010.
4. Lectured at or served on seminar panels at journalism schools at UNC-Chapel Hill, University of Maryland, Columbia University, Mary Washington University and Francis Marion University.

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