Thursday, August 28, 2008

Fay Puts The Mayor To The Test - Is Battery Park Safe?

Living in Battery Park the last few years has been a bit of a challenge.

While all the attention has been paid to The Bottom our storm drains crumbled and finally collapsed under the weight of Isabelle and Gaston.

As the mayor partied it up in Japan I was told by Richmond's finest that if I didn't leave my house (the water was within a block of my house but we sit up so high enough that we were never in danger) they would arrest me and turn Finn over to Family and Children Services.

As we debated whether we could drink the tap water and others were forced repeatedly from their homes after the lightest rains we saw a parade of politicians from Senators to the ever-elusive, and very absent, Rep. Bobby Scott make their obligatory stop for a photo op in our damp 'hood. Ellen Robertson, our council person, hasn't been very present either - except for her weekly spam phone messages. We soldiered on, dealing with detours for our new, above ground, drainage pipes and pumps the size of elephants that blocked our streets.

Rather than admit the boondoggle that is the city owned golf course changed the topography thus turning Battery Park and the surrounding environs into a lake, the city seized homes, rendered apartment renters homeless, and put the problem to the bulldozers. Oddly, some seized homes have been deemed 'safe' and are currently being rehabbed and de-molded. It will be curious to see who gets to buy these homes and at what price....

Then, on what must have been a slow news day for out mayor, the Battery Park project was declared complete last December. Really? The pumps were still there. Sink holes in the tennis courts. Bulldozers and cranes were everywhere. Fences and no trespassing signs would lead one to believe the park not open. The floods, the clean-up crews in haz-mat suits... it all continued. Methink the mayor a bit hasty.

Spring arrived and the gashes in the ground were covered and they seemed to be moving on to cosmetics. The ground leveled, new playground equipment installed. Would we be able to use the park this summer? No. As far as I can tell we only get city work crews 2-4 days a month, and rarely two days in a row. At the rate they're going I would expect the park to re-open about the time Finn finishes college.

So, that brings us to today. As Fay dumps much needed water onto our very brown lawns and for what may be the real first test of the city having spent millions to move water around the very critical 3-hole golf course. The shiny new grates near my house are working well and there is no standing water. Glad to know that bulldozing an apartment complex and displacing all those families had allowed the city to protect the sandtraps for the golf course. OK, I'll admit, I don't miss the apartments. They were a source of trouble but wouldn't it have been easier to dig up a sand trap to rebuild the drains rather than raze a bunch of buildings with people living in them?

Moving over to the park proper, doesn't look too bad. Six months ago the south side of the park would have been under anywhere from 6 to 30+ feet of water after more than 24 hours of rain. Today it looks a little soggy but not too bad. The brand new playground, however, looks like it is sitting in the middle of a lake. Hard to tell from a distance but at least 6 inches of standing water. The question is where did that water drain from? Is it just a puddle? Would you let your child play there? Will the men in the haz-mat suits return?

How did the city and our rock-star mayor do? I guess I would give them a 'D+'.

Had they listened to the residents earlier about water back-ups they could have averted the whole problem by inspecting the storm drains around the park.

The houses were all built nearly 100 years ago and didn't have problems until the city changed the topography of the area for the golf course. Yet, somehow, the city made it sound like we had all built in a flood zone and that we should feel grateful for the buy-outs.

Oddly, while Bush declined to name our area a federal disaster he named an area up in New York one. Same storm. Same number of people effected in roughly an area of equal size. Could it have happened to have been due to us having a Democrat as a Rep and them having a Republican in a tough re-election bid weeks before the 2006 election? Hmm....

Communication during the flooding basically sucked and the police were way too authoritative.

Months of detours really sucked and the city has yet to do anything about adding or upgrading access to the neighbourhood.

We got a really cool red back-pack from the Red Cross with emergency supplies if we are ever stranded in our home.

The plans for the park look to be very family friendly and are designed to reduce the drug activity.

The pace of the work make me fear it may not be done in my lifetime.

The new drainage looks to be working under it's first heavy test.

The all-important golf course is open - without which the water would have just naturally drained into Shockoe Valley....


Scott said...

Sounds right.

In Richmond, golf courses and opera houses come before neigborhoods and schools. Its shameful but true.

F.T. Rea said...

To my knowledge, it has never come out WHEN the City of Richmond first knew, or suspected, the ancient sewer pipe buried beneath the notorious Battery Park landfill was damaged.

Now I wonder if it had been leaking for a long time. In 1978, the Fan District Softball League played some of its scheduled games on a sloped softball field on that was then on top of the same landfill. I remember that whenever it rained heavily, right field was a swamp. It was a swamp that smelled bad. Very bad. We were told it was because of the landfill.

For softball players that explanation floated, because all we cared about was whether we could play on the field. Looking back on it, now I’m thinking we might have been smelling raw sewage leaking from the already cracked pipe that eventually collapsed in 2006.

As far as how long a giant buried pipe could leak before it would totally collapse, I have no engineering background to make an educated guess. But my hunch is it had leaked for a long time.

Bookstore Piet said...

That's actually a bit of a misconception about the pipes. The pipes are actually storm drains not sewer lines. Of course when they collapsed they backed everything up and then flooded the sewer lines adding a fun element to the whole issue. **Some of that assesment may be wrong... this is what we were told and I'm not an urban engineer.

The smells from the field you are talking about bordered on the scary and have been there for years. The puddles had very interesting rainbows of chemical laced colours. The gases coming up from the old landfill contained a whole host of nasty substances. Makes you wonder what health issues the kids and teachers at Norrell had over the years.

F.T. Rea said...

So, the giant old pipe buried under the landfill that broke was for run-off water only? Then, it all backed up from that point?


Still, I can tell you that smelly swamp that followed heavy rains was there 30 years ago.

Bookstore Piet said...

I don't doubt it smelled. Do you feel better that it was of unknown chemical origin rather than raw sewage? Either way, great place for kids to play....