WK Dickson updates council on status of Albemarle’s stormwater development project

The Albemarle City Council received a detailed presentation on Monday night from WK Dickson about the plan to upgrade the city’s stormwater program.

Flooding has been an ongoing issues for the city for decades — especially for many of the residents who live near streams or creeks.

Due to Albemarle’s aging infrastructure, and the increased rainfall intensity over the years, the city is susceptible to flooding and stormwater runoff. The city also has no mapping records of the stormwater system and a maintenance program has never been established.

After a particularly nasty rain last June, which totaled around four inches in a matter of a few hours, residents appealed to city council members to work on the issue. Many spoke of fearing for their safety due to the heavy accumulation of water seeping into their homes. Council authorized staff to work on a multi-year effort to address the issues.

Since then, city staff formed a six-member stormwater project team to help address the issue. A request for quotation for a storm water engineering firm was issued. Through a vetting process implemented by the project team, Charlotte-based WK Dickson, a community infrastructure consulting firm, was identified as the choice among eight bidders.

Earlier in the year, the council hired WK Dickson to conduct a comprehensive stormwater management plan that will address flooding issues and develop solutions. Officials with the company have spoken with council several times over the past year. Though it will take some time to fully implement, stormwater will eventually end up being a public utility like water and sewer.

Becoming more proactive 

Tom Murray, a stormwater program manager with WK Dickson, spoke to council about the importance of the city becoming more proactive when it comes to managing its stormwater program. This includes replacing aging infrastructure before it gets damaged by heavy rainfall.

“Some of the infrastructure is aging and we need to start planning for the maintenance and replacement of that infrastructure before it fails,” Murray told council.

Part of this involves adding more personnel dedicated to managing the program and the infrastructure.

After meeting with relevant city staff, Murray mentioned to council that several employees work on stormwater issues, but they also have other jobs and responsibilities. He estimated the city has about six full-time employees that handle the program.

“You have streets crews and right-of-way crews that are out doing a lot of good work, but they’re not dedicated solely to stormwater,” he said. “It’s not something that they can do on an every day basis because they have multiple job responsibilities and they’re pulled in many different directions.”

Murray recommended the city bolster its program by adding nine new employees to focus solely on the stormwater program. This includes hiring a stormwater manager, stormwater administrator and stormwater technician.

“If we can have some additional staff, we can make sure we’re hitting these (problem) locations on a routine basis and allowing the other individuals to go do the other portions of their job within public works or utilities,” Murray said.

Aside from an upgrade in manpower, Murray talked about enhancing the operation and maintenance of the program. This includes replacing old infrastructure, acquiring needed equipment (trucks, mini-excavator, a jet-vac trailer and a street sweeper) and other supplies and addressing capital improvements.

Murray estimated that it would cost about $2.5 million by fiscal year 2023 to implement the necessary changes to bolster and enhance the city’s stormwater program.

Katie Cromwell, who works with Charlotte-based management consulting firm Raftelis, spoke about what the fee structure would look like for residents once stormwater becomes a utility. The plan is for residents to be billed based upon what Cromwell called equivalent residential units, which is the amount of impervious surface area on a typical single family property in the city.

She explained that a random sample of 400 residential properties was taken to determine the median impervious surface area of such homes, which was 3,270 square feet. A monthly stormwater fee would be the same for all residential properties, regardless of size.

Cromwell discussed a range of fees that residents could reasonably expect in the near future, though the numbers could still fluctuate. For fiscal year 2022, the range is projected to be between $8.54 to $9.43; for fiscal year 2023, the range would be between $12.09 and $13.05; and for fiscal year 2024, the range would be between $12.41 and $13.09.

Engaging with the community 

In order to gain input from the community, Inga Kennedy, public engagement consultant with WK Dickson, has spent the past several months canvassing the area, talking with citizens at events such as Food Truck Fridays and the farmers market to hear about their experiences with flooding issues.

“People are interested in talking about it,” she said. “When we start the dialogue, they talk about what they may have experienced, what their relatives may experience and they want to know about what more they can do to impact the system.”

Kennedy shared with council the results of an ongoing survey, consisting of a few basic questions, that has already been completed by more than 100 residents, revealing that almost 50 percent had experienced flooding on their property. The majority of respondents said the flooding occurred in their yard and that it came from nearby streams or creeks though Kennedy mentioned she’s talked with several residents who have experienced flooding inside of their homes.

According to the survey results, about 45 percent of respondents have experienced flooding on their property more than three times a year, while only about 15 percent experience flooding once a year.

“That’s a lot,” Kennedy said about the percentage of people who experience multiple flooding per year. “We’ve got to find out where that is and what’s happening.”

While about 70 percent of people said that flooding caused damage to their property, only about 25 percent said they had ever contacted the city regarding the issue.

Many respondents said they were not familiar with a stormwater utility, Kennedy said, and did not think it was the responsibility of the city to help address flooding issues.

In addition to more people completing the survey, Kennedy said she plans to connect in with the school system, local churches and the Albemarle Rotary Club.