While a Mount Airy couple sees their home slowly sinking away due to an erosion problem, no similar movement has occurred toward a possible remedy by city officials — who pledge to keep trying.
“Not any good solutions,” Public Works Director Jeff Boyles summed up after examining the situation at the home of Dan and Gitte Strauss on Inman Circle near Central United Methodist Church.
“Which is usually the case when you get to this level,” Boyles added.
Because of stormwater runoff in the area which converges on the Strauss property, much of the couple’s backyard has eroded away down a steep hill toward a ditch. They have been forced to rely on rip-rap and wood chips to shore up the site.
Despite visits to the site by Mount Airy officials, and a representative of an agency that aids the city government with various wetlands projects, they are at a loss, so far, as to what might be done in a cost-effective and otherwise feasible manner.
“But I know the house is going to be at the bottom of that gully if something is not done about it,” Mayor David Rowe said during a council meeting Thursday night when Boyles gave a presentation on the erosion issue. He had been directed in late June to explore it and return with possible solutions this month.
Boyles explained that there is an open channel of about 1,200 feet north of Inman Circle which provides an outlet from Salem Condominiums and Foxcroft Drive and drains about 38 acres altogether into Inman Circle’s lower end. The channel collects runoff from a number of roadways and structures which heads into the area behind the Strauss home where a small creek is located.
Adding to the erosion problem is stormwater runoff from the street in front of the house into its driveway and down the slope, and from a storm drainage pipe extending from the Central United Methodist parking lot. The latter dumps into an empty lot just upstream from the home, Boyles reported.
Meanwhile, the city policy on stormwater drainage, in effect since 1996, states that the municipality is responsible for maintenance of the system on the public right of way and property owners are for areas outside that realm.
There are several other locations around town with drainage problems, Boyles, said including Hickory and Willow streets, Aims Avenue, Fairview and Grove lanes, Hunter Drive and others.
“And we hear about them frequently.”
Possible solutions to the Inman Circle situation identified by Boyles include:
• Installing asphalt curbing to address the drainage from Inman Circle, which would involve directing it to a storm-drainage structure in the front yard of the Strauss home which is now landscaped. It could be uncovered and converted to an inlet to collect surface runoff from the street to prevent it from running down the driveway and eroding the streambank.
However, this would not be attractive and isn’t favored by Dan Strauss, according to Boyles. “I’ve spoken to him and he’s not very interested in that idea.”
In addition, diverting water from the roadway would not fully solve the problem, in Boyles’ view. “The biggest part of the drainage is upstream.”
• An in-stream option of installing a storm-drainage culvert behind the Strauss home, requiring a pipe of 48 inches which exceeds the 36-inch maximum in city policy. The cost of having it placed by a private contractor would “easily” top $100,000, Boyles mentioned.
“I think this project’s beyond what we could do in-house,” he said in response to a question from Commissioner Shirley Brinkley about city crews possibly doing the work. “You need bigger equipment” to remove trees necessary to complete the job.
Boyles said deviating from city policy in this way also might prompt others along the channel, and in other locations, to seek the same arrangement.
• Installing natural channel design features along the 1,200-foot stretch involved, similar to those for the Ararat River and Lovills Creek, which would cost between $300,000 and $500,000.
More study sought
Boyles’ presentation did not convince council members that the municipality is under no mandate to fund a remedy, especially Commissioner Jim Armbrister.
Armbrister said the city should “assume some level of responsibility here.”
He commented that the homeowner has no control over what is happening outside his boundaries. “I don’t see how the property owner could handle 38 acres of drainage.”
Armbrister also suggested that the city should seek outside expertise in the matter.
“None of us are specialists in that area,” he said of hydrology. “We need to have someone look at this who knows what they’re doing.”
Commissioner Brinkley agreed, saying city officials ought to approach the erosion problem with an understanding “that it needs to be fixed.”
She and Armbrister pushed for a motion to pursue this on a higher level and get answers “right away,” which was approved 5-0.
Possible funding avenues are being pursued by Charles Anderson of The Resource Institute in Winston-Salem, who has helped Mount Airy obtain millions in grant funding for greenway and stream-restoration work in recent years.
“We’ve not been successful with that yet,” City Manager Barbara Jones said of grants targeting the Inman Circle situation. “But Charles is going to keep looking.”
Jones said Anderson is aware of the severity involved.
“Charles has been aware for a number of months now and he’s been digging (for funding).”
Commissioner Jon Cawley was bothered by leaving Mr. and Mrs. Strauss hanging in the meantime.
“Are we going to call them if we get a grant — what’s going to happen?”
• The Surry County Special Olympics Swim Team, the Starfish, received certificates Thursday from Mayor David Rowe recognizing their performance at the state 2018 Special Olympics Summer Games Swim Meet in Cary last month.
The team brought home 48 medals from the statewide competition featuring more than 300 competitors.
Recognized were Alijah Wood, Jacob Groff, Neal Joyner, Haley Johnson, Charity Dixon, Travis Powell, Hiatt Nester, and coaches Benny Brannock, Rob Sinton and Wendy Tucker.
Team members at the State Games not at the meeting included Chance Casstevens, Fallon Cook, Katie Gibson, Jill Kelley, Alex Lynch, John Marion, Dylan O’Neal and Tabitha Reynolds.
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.