Utility proposed as Huntingburg stormwater solutionMarch 19, 2019
By CANDY NEAL
HUNTINGBURG — Residents came to Monday evening’s stormwater meeting asking about specific solutions to their individual stormwater flooding problems.
What they heard was that each of those problems needs to be studied by a utility dedicated to stormwater management.
Eric Parsley of Commonwealth Engineers explained the study he completed about Huntingburg’s ongoing stormwater issues. Commonwealth’s recommendation is that Huntingburg establish a stormwater utility. The utility would create a comprehensive plan for tackling the city’s stormwater problem areas and for ongoing stormwater maintenance.
“The problem in smaller communities is that there has never been a comprehensive stormwater plan created,” Parsley said. Issues are dealt with as they arise, if that is possible, he said.
“That’s how we got here today,” commented Councilman Steve McPherron, who was in the audience. “We don’t have a wholistic approach to stormwater. It’s been piecemealed.”
Commonwealth has been collecting information since fall 2018, which included a Sept. 19 meeting to learn about problem areas from the public.
The biggest concentration of problem areas is on the south side of the city, especially in the southeast area, and to the northwest. But there are some problem spots in other parts of the city.
Parsley said he heard many comments from residents saying problems could be solved by cleaning out ditches. “Some of the problems are more complex,” he said, “and the solution is more complex.”
He added that they all should be looked at comprehensively.
Huntingburg is surrounded by a floodplain. And some areas are so flat, water has no way to escape. While cleaning out ditches may help some, ultimately, “there is no place for the water to go,” Parsley said. Also, there could be jurisdiction matters, such as if an area is under county or state rule, or if the solution must follow restrictions from an agency like the Indiana Department of Environmental Management, he said.
Currently, the street department deals with stormwater matters as needed and in conjunction with its work. That method is not the most effective. “The street department needs to be able to concentrate on street work,” Parsley said.
To establish a stormwater utility, an equivalent residential unit must be set to determine a stormwater rate. The equivalent residential unit, or ERU, is a measurement of impervious areas, or areas where water cannot easily soak into the ground, like roofs and driveways. Pervious areas are spaces where water can soak into the ground, like lawns.
Based on measurements, Parsley said 3,100 square feet is the average impervious area of a residential site; he recommended that amount be one equivalent residential unit, or ERU. Non-residential areas, like businesses and places that have parking lots, would end up being several ERUs. City officials would determine the stormwater utility rate.
Parsley showed a list of rates for comparable communities. Warrick County, which equates 1 ERU to 3,100 square feet, charges $5 per ERU. The City of Jasper, which equates 1 ERU to 5,000 square feet, charges $3.96 per ERU.
Parsley recommended Huntingburg develop a capital projects plan for stormwater improvements, as well as an ongoing operation and maintenance program for the upkeep of the stormwater system. He also suggested the city build on the stormwater information already loaded into its GIS mapping system by adding public comments on problem spots, as well as photos of the problem areas.
People at the meeting asked about solutions to their specific stormwater problems. Parsley explained that a utility would be able to study the different issues to come up with a solution, and do it in a way that would make sure another problem is not created elsewhere.
The residents seemed to understand the logic.
“We don’t have anybody to answer these questions today,” resident Cory Beadles said. “We gotta start somewhere. We gotta get a department established. Once we do that, we have to start having those meetings with whoever is having the problems and the one or two people who know what the heck is going on everywhere. Today, there is nobody in the city that has that job.”
Beadles’ concern is if the city wants to step up to that challenge.
“If we start paying a fee for that, my expectation will be that the city helps handle my problems,” he said. “Does the city want to have that expectation set?”
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