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Wheeling City Councilmen Discuss Flooding Problems With Residents

Homeowners From Edgwood, Woodsdale Attend Meeting

Photo by Eric Ayres Ward 5 Councilman Ty Thorngate, standing, addresses a crowd at the Wheeling Seventh Day Adventist Church that attended to hear an update Tuesday night on storm sewer projects and related flooding issues in the neighborhood around Elm Run.

WHEELING — City Councilmen Jerry Sklavounakis and Ty Thorngate hosted an informational neighborhood meeting Tuesday night about flooding issues, and concerned Edgwood and Woodsdale residents packed the Wheeling Seventh Day Adventist Church to hear the update.

The councilmen didn’t expect a roomful of more than 75 people for the session, but provided a detailed update on Wheeling’s long-term water pollution control plan and upcoming stormwater and sanitary sewer projects expected to help mitigate some of the flooding issues many in attendance experience after heavy rains.

Sklavounakis, representing Ward 4, and Thorngate, representing Ward 5, have both been outspoken advocates for prioritizing solutions to flooding issues in the affected neighborhoods in the Elm Run area.

Flooded basements have been a common theme and many residents have suffered tens of thousands of dollars in flood damage.

Thorngate explained that the city is upgrading its aging infrastructure, fixing some pipes originally installed, he said, “when Grover Cleveland was president.”

The sewer system, particularly, has been targeted for upgrades to meet Environmental Protection Agency mandates and standards, which are expected to be part of a 20-year, $280 million long-term water pollution control plan.

“I will probably be a grandfather by the time work in Woodsdale is completed,” Thorngate said, “and right now, I have a 3-year-old.”

The city is currently wrapping up projects in Phase 3A of the long-term control plan and moving on to projects in Phase 3B. The major Bedillion Lane Project through this area is key to the overall mitigation plan.

Officials said more than $25 million in various upgrades will be on tap throughout the entire city in Phase 3B. Phase 4 projects are estimated to cost $45 million from 2022-2027.

Sklavounakis and Thorngate hope to urge their fellow city leaders to move future projects in flood-prone neighborhoods up in priority on the long-term schedule.

Part of the problem with the old system is that it was originally designed with a single storm water and sanitary sewer system with combined sewer overflows.

Heavy rains overburdened the systems, the overflows would open, and the combined sanitary and stormwater runoff would all flow into the nearest creek or stream. EPA regulations forced the removal of most of these CSOs.

Now, when heavy rains send water pouring into the combined systems, the rainwater and raw sewage often goes back into the residents’ basements.

“My neighbor just filled in their garage, because their car was floating last time,” Ralph Lucki of Poplar Avenue said. “I’m like everyone else — we’re losing property value and everything.”

Residents have complained that the clearing on top of Woodsdale Hill in an initial phase of a since-halted development project also contributed to the flooding problems.

Elm Run needs dredging, but officials noted municipalities must “jump through hoops” to get that green light.

“It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure it out,” Fred Wetzel of Miller Street said. “We’ve got a million dollars in those fire trucks — they could pump out those culverts with a fire hose.”

Army Corps of Engineers recommendations include increasing conduit and culvert sizes, using “wingwalls” to direct water flows around culverts, placing new V-shaped “trash racks” to capture debris and installing sediment traps. Yet that work on Elm Run alone would cost $8.3 million, Thorngate said.

Officials said they have requested a federal earmark for this work through Sen. Shelley Moore Capito’s office. If they are unsuccessful, an alternative for funding could be the city’s allocation from the American Rescue Plan, but Sklavounakis and Thorngate said they are only two voices on city council, which would have to approve the $8.3 million request from the recent $14 million American Rescue Plan allocation that is intended to help the entire city.

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