Flood stories were flowing through the Cordie Page building at Trinity United Methodist Church Thursday evening as more than 55 people turned out to help engineers come up with a plan to curb some future flash flooding in areas around the church.
The City of Conway and the Nature Conservancy together have started a move to impede future flooding using a $40,000 grant secured through the Nature Conservancy.
Joshua Robinson, principal engineer with the firm of Robinson Design Engineers, said the goal of the program is to use property owned by the City of Conway, thanks to buyouts from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, to come up with natural ways to deal with the flooding, a solution that mimics a natural system, that will look like natural wetlands in 30 years.
The company’s goal is to hold as much water on the city’s property as possible, he said, adding that he hopes this phase of the project will start a snowball effect that will lead to more money and more action.
The project, as planned now, will have three phases. The first happened Thursday evening when Robinson’s crew listened intently to people’s flood stories, the hindrances they see to fixing the problem and possible solutions they were willing to share.
Robinson said he doesn’t expect a solution to the problem to come out of the heads of the designers, but out of the residents’ insights.
The area the group hopes to use to hold back the water is bounded by Crabtree Canal and Sherwood Drive from the Canal to Long Avenue. It includes Godfrey Lane and Freeman Drive.
Hunter Jenkins said he went to the meeting because his house flooded, but he and his wife are back in now.
“It’s not an easy problem to solve and it’s not going to be solved overnight. I don’t know what the solution is. That’s why we got all the experts here to hopefully help us figure it out,” he said.
Former riverkeeper Hamp Shuping offered several points for the consultants to consider, saying that he’s been around the river all of his life and he lives in the affected neighborhood, although his home did not flood after Hurricane Florence.
He’s interested in seeing U.S. 501 and U.S. 501 Business raised enough to provide for water to flow under them.
He said people are aware that the roads are problems, but the cost to elevate them is high. Still he wants someone to look at them to see what might be done.
He also favors restricting development in flood-prone areas.
Shuping points to Mill Pond Road where much property is on the market now as a place that needs more control, saying if all of that property is developed, it will be a problem.
“…we’re just going to negate some of the work they’re going to do here,” he said.
Shuping said he’s heard lots of talk about retention ponds, but has some hesitancy about how much they can help.
He also suggested that the city use some of its property to create attractive and usable natural space, including such things as walking/jogging/running trails, and canoe and kayak launches.
Kevin Tovornik and his wife Mary faced the first water inside of their home in 22 years after Hurricane Flood. They’ve got the house nine feet in the air now while they build the proper foundation. When that’s done they’ll drop the house back down to eight feet with plans to boat in and out if future floods impact them.
The couple hopes to be back in their house in about nine months.
“We’re going slow because you got one shot at it,” he said.
He said he took his time finding just the right contractor, who had the ability to restore the house and who understood the problem.
He said they turned down FEMA’s offer to buy them out, because the agency’s offer was less than what they paid for the house 22 years ago, and they just like the neighborhood.
He believes that Crabtree Canal is the problem for the area.
“I think the Corps of Engineers and the county need to do something with Crabtree,” he said.
He’d like to see an expansion of the easements all the way through the canal system.
Lex Johnson, who’s lived in the area affected by Crabtree Canal his whole life, thinks that the Canal wasn’t designed for a city the size of Conway.
He thinks a second canal is needed, and he says the only logical place for that would be behind Conway High School.
Now that the engineers have collected information, Robinson said, they’ll move into their design work. They won’t come up with a plan that comes out of their own heads; they’ll look instead to the comments collected Thursday for that. He’d also like to see the solution go beyond just holding water. A wetland park with a boardwalk is one possibility he mentioned.
He talks about excavating soil to create new basins.
“Our goal is to do the best we can with the area we have and then snowball into different things over time,” he said.
Robinson praised city officials for being proactive and for seeking solutions quickly.
He said Thursday’s meeting was beneficial for the hydrologists and engineers, helping them do things like collecting flood depths.
Promoters of the project say they plan to apply for federal funds to implement the consultants’ designs. Robinson would like to see that happen by the spring when money will be needed for construction and permitting.
Robinson is optimistic about being able to continue the project.
Joy Brown, marine program manager with the Nature Conservancy, is optimistic about the final outcome.
“I am very positive that it is going to reduce some of the flooding that occurs when you get that flash flooding from rain,” she said.