VOL. 129 | NO. 191 | Wednesday, October 1, 2014
Whitehaven Flood Response Complicated
By Bill Dries
When the Memphis area got seven inches of rain on Sept. 11, a group of Whitehaven homeowners at the state line watched once the rain stopped as their neighbors on the other side of the border got a prompter response in terms of a federal disaster declaration.
Late last week, the Federal Emergency Management Agency opened a claims center in Southaven that will take claims from the Memphis area as well to qualify for Small Business Administration loans.
But the bureaucratic rules of disaster declarations are complex and don’t completely make the leap over state lines.
It’s what Bob Nations, head of Shelby County government’s Office of Preparedness, described as a “very institutionalized system.”
“It’s very siloed,” he told the standing-room-only crowd of more than 100 homeowners in Whitehaven last week who met at Holmes Road Church of Christ.
The Mississippi side got a declaration. But the Tennessee side, including Whitehaven, probably won’t qualify by the guidelines that include not only dollar amount thresholds for local damage but the state as well.
Shelby County nor the state met the threshold.
“This time, it’s just not there,” Nations said to a church meeting room full of irate homeowners. “It doesn’t mean there wasn’t damage – that your house wasn’t damaged.”
“I know you’ve probably got more questions than they’ve got answers. But we’re not going to turn this dog loose.”
City and county leaders led by Memphis City Council member Harold Collins did a lot of listening during the Thursday, Sept. 25, session at the church.
“It will not be solved tonight,” Collins said at the outset as homeowners talked of past problems in the subdivisions with too much water, too fast, very little flood insurance and the chances of rain in the near-term weather forecast.
“I know you’ve probably got more questions than they’ve got answers,” Collins added. “But we’re not going to turn this dog loose.”
Some homeowners said they’ve been flooded before over the years and some pinned the blame on water runoff from Interstate 55 construction on the Mississippi portion of the interstate and new residential and commercial development in Southaven.
The neighborhoods south of East Holmes Road are east and west of the interstate with homes that go right up to the state line.
“I pay taxes too and I’m tired of it,” said Annie Shiner who lives on Santa Monica Cove, in one of the subdivisions at the state line that has had chronic flooding problems.
Like others in the audience she talked of water buckling floors, ruining carpet and damaging walls, as well as the mold problems that come later.
Lee Patterson, who lives on Lexie Cove, saw his garage freezer and everything in it turned upside down in the flash flood.
“Water was going everywhere in that cove,” he said of a problem that was new to him but which neighbors around him had warned of.
“After all of this took place, there was no help,” he said, contrasting that to the help offered on the Mississippi side of the state line. “There is a double standard. You’ve got to have somebody with clout.”
Other Whitehaven homeowners north of East Holmes Road pointed to an overwhelmed and overgrown Days Creek basin that runs by their homes that rose quickly on Sept. 11. In some cases the overgrowth includes trees in the drainage area.
The creek that is now more drainage ditch than creek, with parts of it a concrete drainage area, is the immediate target of city efforts.
Deputy City Public Works Director Robert Knecht said the city has submitted an application with the state Department of Environment and Conservation for a permit to remove some of the vegetation. The permit is required for work to widen and straighten parts of the creek that are considered natural areas.
The city was already moving machinery in to help clear some of the areas of Days Creek the city can begin work on without a permit being necessary.
There is no city easement on the property so the permission of property owners of the creek is still required as well.
City Engineer John Cameron said the city will work with a consultant on a longer-term solution that Cameron indicated could be like the water detention basin the city used to reduce flooding along the Midtown section of Lick Creek.