City public works crews have undertaken a project aimed at correcting drainage problems long plaguing a local business.
A solution has been pursued by Mount Airy officials since early April, when Donna Hiatt, owner of Donna’s Barber Shop at the corner of North Renfro and East Oak streets, spoke during a public forum at a Board of Commissioners meeting.
Hiatt described the ongoing drainage issue at her business, which adjoins the Gwyn Properties real estate firm.
“The water that runs down Oak Street comes into my shop and there is a huge problem,” she added during the April 6 meeting in describing what was happening during intense rainfall.
Hiatt also referred to how apparent deficiencies with public storm drains in the area of Renfro-Oak streets and nearby Independence Boulevard were impacting her ability to operate.
“I love my community and work hard to keep my business,” she said of the barber shop that has been open for nearly 15 years.
“This is my life,” Hiatt added. “There are about 300 people that come into that door every week.”
Michael Hiatt, Donna Hiatt’s brother — who owns the barber shop property — said during the same public forum that sandbags have had to be placed at its entrance to deter water flow during heavy rains.
After the problem reached the commissioners’ ears on April 6, Jeff Boyles, Mount Airy’s public works director, looked into the situation and reported back to the board at its next meeting on April 20.
Boyle explained that culverts in the area were becoming overwhelmed and unable to handle the large volume of water coming through.
“The problem with it is, it sits at the bottom,” Boyles said of the barber shop’s location below a hill — with no place for water to go during rainstorms “except through the door.”
He stressed that topography was a key issue at the site.
“Elevation is critical,” Boyles said. “Elevation can make all the difference in the world.”
Complications hamper process
Although the city council was formally briefed on the matter in early spring, a solution was not readily attainable due to several factors.
There was some discussion among city officials about their level of responsibility in addressing work impacting private property.
“If you fix Donna’s (problem), what else are you going to have to fix?” Mayor David Rowe said during a May 4 council meeting, while acknowledging that the water runoff was coming from a public street.
“I think we should fix anybody’s that comes from the street,” Commissioner Jim Armbrister reasoned, saying any allegations of favoritism should be discarded.
“We’re spending $400,000 to keep water from running down the steps at Reeves (Community Center),” he said at another point during the discussions in reference to a similar previously approved project.
“Until we do something, there’s nothing the owners can do,” Armbrister said of the Donna’s Barber Shop property. His position was that the city government should “stand up” and address the need as soon as possible.
Another complication involved an inability to pinpoint exactly where the drainage problem was originating. This concerned a frequent roadblock which dictates how projects are handled based on whether city streets or those on the state system are affected.
While Oak Street is part of Mount Airy’s network — meaning city officials have authority to undertake construction efforts there — North Renfro Street is on the state system. Work involving it is controlled by the N.C. Department of Transportation.
After discussing the matter with the state agency, Mayor Rowe reported during the council meeting on May 4 that he had achieved “zero success with the North Carolina DOT.”
Rowe explained that the state agency was reluctant to suggest a possible remedy or take responsibility for any solution relative to the state-maintained street. “The best I could get from the state was they would give us an encroachment agreement to fix Renfro Street,” the mayor said of that DOT route.
Oak Street efforts
The feeling among the commissioners was they didn’t want to get into the habit of fixing the DOT’s streets, and instead would pursue a solution on East Oak Street — relying on the design expertise of the municipal engineering staff.
Boyles, the public works director, told the city council that a set of pipes and an inlet on the west side of nearby City Hall Street could be enlarged along with the possibility of constructing inlets along East Oak and Moore Avenue, another nearby street.
He also pointed out that the DOT had installed four outlets at or near the low point.
“So there has been work done and there can be additional work,” Boyles said.
He cautioned that while this would improve the drainage problem, it might not solve it altogether. “Unless you spend a lot of money, it’s going to be difficult.”
Within the past couple of weeks, city crews began installing two to three additional stormwater catch basins along East Oak Street.
“There are two more inlets to be installed, with one on each side of the road,” Boyles reported Monday. “We hope to begin that effort this week, depending on the weather.”
The public works director added that it is difficult to determine how successful the effort will be at this point.
“I’m sure the work we’ve done is helping, but it’s difficult for me to quantify the improvement,” he commented.
“I’ve checked on the drainage in this area during several recent storms and the inlets did seem to be catching most of the water coming to them with minimal bypass — however, I don’t know how these rainfall events compare in intensity or duration to those of the past that caused a problem.”
Boyles on Monday put the cost of materials involved at around $6,000, with labor and equipment to bring the total to around $12,000.
Meanwhile, Donna Hiatt, the barber shop owner, was hopeful Tuesday that the work recently launched will solve the problem, relating a DOT belief that the East Oak infrastructure was its source.
“I’m just thankful that they finally decided that they had to fix it,” she said of city officials’ embracing of a drainage issue existing for years. “I’m really thrilled.”
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.