Residents who were affected by flash flooding July 19 told the Jefferson City Council Public Works Committee on Thursday the city should take more responsibility for some of the issues that exacerbated the flooding and asked for help.
On July 19, several areas of the city were hit with flash floods unlike any the residents had previously seen. Some residents reported multiple feet of water in lower levels of their home from the rain storm that is being labelled as a potential 500- or 1,000-year rain.
Public Works Director Matt Morasch previously told the News Tribune the city's stormwater system is designed to handle a 25-year rain, with overflow routes for 100-year rains.
Residents who spoke out Thursday say the city should take more responsibility for some factors that may have increased the flooding issues.
Jeri James came to speak on behalf of her mother, who lives on Allen Drive. She said a rusted-out drain pipe in the area caused the increased flooding in July, and she asked why the city hadn't replaced a pipe they know could be an issue.
Morasch said the department doesn't have the funding and time to replace the system, but they have been doing what repairs they can.
"It's a slow process," Morasch said. "However, Allen Drive is on the priority list to be done, we think within the next couple of years, and the system would be replaced. We do try to maintain infrastructure, but unfortunately, the need is great, and the funds are limited."
Several residents mentioned clogged or blocked culverts in their area that prevented proper draining of floodwater.
Whenever it rains, debris like tree limbs, leaves and sometimes even larger logs collect in the water as it runs through the stormwater system. On July 19, logs up to 16 inches in diameter collected in some culverts.
Joe Spaunhorst, who lives on East Elm Street, said his home has been in the family for decades and has never seen this much flooding. They had several feet of water in their lower level.
After the costs of cleaning out the basement, replacing lost items, repairs and a hotel stay, his family is out about $50,000, Spaunhorst said.
Part of the problem is that homes in areas that are not FEMA-regulated floodplain were flooding. Residents in these areas are not required to have flood insurance, and therefore typically do not, making all of the repair and cleanup costs their responsibility.
"Insurance is not covering any of it because we were told we were not in a flood zone, so we did not have flood insurance," Spaunhorst said.
For his family and other flood victims, the home damage isn't the worst part of the experience.
"We didn't just lose contents, we lost our security," Spaunhorst said. "Every time it storms, my girls, my wife and I worry this is going to happen again."
Spaunhorst said he sees the debris buildup in the culvert as a serious issue.
"My concern isn't just the rain or the runoff, it's the lack of debris being cleaned up," he said. "Just down the street from my house, there's a culvert that's constantly backed up with leaves, bushes and trees."
Spaunhorst showed the committee and staff photos of the flooding around his home and asked for more cleaning of the culverts.
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Public works crews try to keep the city's many culverts clean, Morasch said, but that can be difficult with how many there are and the fact that debris tends to build up any time there is significant rain.
"It's a constant battle for our crews," Morasch said. "We do rely on our residents to kind of help us."
Spaunhorst said the issue seems to have gotten worse over the years his family has lived there, culminating July 19 when the water exceeded the height of a 3-foot retaining wall.
"For the first 10 years, it was almost unheard of to have water in my home," Spaunhorst said. "Then we started getting 6 inches, then it was a foot. We never got close to the top of that retaining wall."
Spaunhorst said they plan to rebuild, but they have to spend more money to raise a retaining wall and prevent future flooding.
For those in the regulated floodplain, any repairs to the home cannot exceed half of the property value as long as the structure remains a flood risk. For some properties, like the Jefferson City Memorial Airport, for example, this means raising the structure out of the flood zone during construction.
Harry Spaunhorst, Joe Spaunhorst's father and owner of the East Elm Street property, said he had never been concerned about stormwater issues on the property, which is near a branch of Boggs Creek.
"Several homes along that creek were flooded for the first time, and we believe this is a compound problem," Harry Spaunhorst said.
Harry Spaunhorst gave three issues he believed contributed to the flooding — new construction near Bald Hill Road replacing natural ground with concrete and asphalt, which doesn't absorb water; a number of trees that were cut down in the area that were not cleaned up then clogged a culvert near Bald Hill Road; and a broken sewer pipe that crossed the creek, which was discovered shortly before the flood and repaired afterward.
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"This explains why the water that got into our son's house smelled like an outhouse," Harry Spaunhorst said. "It was horrible."
Spaunhorst asked the city for any assistance or advice they could give to those affected, since the event was not declared an emergency by the state — meaning homeowners won't received state aid.
Jefferson City Operations Division Director Britt Smith said the staff had submitted a request to the state for an emergency declaration, but it was denied because it did not meet specific qualifications.
Shantel Dooling, who lives on Bald Hill Road, also blamed the improperly cleaned up trees for blocking the culvert.
"Our house was completely taken from us," Dooling said. "Our lives consist of storage units and living in a small, unfinished basement."
Dooling said the feet of water in her home ruined the HVAC system, plumbing and electricity, leaving the home uninhabitable.
After the water receded, the Doolings and others in the area discovered the cut-down trees that had blocked the large drainage opening. Dooling also said two large holding tanks on city property near her home are supposed to stop water from reaching the area, but the sensors on the tanks did not function properly.
The city has denied being involved in the removal of the trees, and Dooling said no one has taken responsibility for the trees that blocked the culvert.
In response to the residents' comments Thursday, city staff offered to set up one-on-one conversations to offer advice and to go over floodplain information.
The committee also recommended reaching out to Catholic Charities of Central and Northern Missouri — which is providing disaster case management — or other local organizations for help with cleanup and recovery.
Ward 3 Councilman Ken Hussey thanked the residents for sharing their stories with the committee.
Hussey said the city allocates $360,000 a year for stormwater projects from the 1/2-cent Capital Improvement Sales Tax, and he shared the difficulty of balancing the needs for funding in the city between all departments.
"I recognize there are bigger issues to tackle," Hussey said, referencing the issues brought up by the residents. "But I don't know how that gets solved today. I do know that this has raised awareness of this issue."