Apr. 6—After another round of devastating floods ravaged Lebanon's downtown square, it refloated a question that gets asked a lot, why does this keep happening?
Lebanon's Commissioner of Public Works Jeff Baines said that after the floods in 2010, the city entered discussions with the Army Corps of Engineers on "possible alternatives to mitigate flooding on Sinking Creek."
Sinking Creek is the waterway that runs underneath the square. Its watershed begins about 4 miles south of the square and runs south to north through the city.
According to Baines, after the Corps of Engineers conducted a 5-year analysis of the area, it recommended the city create a detention structure at Stumpy Lane. This proposal was presented to the City Council last summer.
Per the Corps' recommendation, the flood elevations for a 100-year and 25-year flood would be reduced significantly. These parameters are used to determine a storm and subsequent flood's severity and also to establish time tables for expectations about storms of that size.
Baines said the total estimated cost for the project was in excess of $2 million, and that the city would be on the hook for $750,000.
The discussions were paused in response to the economic uncertainties brought on by the pandemic. Bernie Ash, who was mayor at the time, requested the council defer the project until July of this year. The council obliged.
Baines said that he has been working with the current mayor, Rick Bell, regarding the flood prone zones. He also said that they have reopened conversations with the Corps of Engineers "in the last few weeks."
Bell has expressed interest in seeing the project take into consideration the local businesses most directly impacted.
Baines said that he has concerns the project "may not offer significant reduction in flooding risks to be worth the investment."
"As of this date, no option has been identified that would significantly reduce flood elevations in the square/downtown businesss area," he said.
The city has taken several steps to curb the impact from flooding. It has hired Braxton McFarlin to serve as the city's drainage mitigation coordinator. His role consists of communicating with citizens experiencing drainage issues as well as ensuring drainage routes around the city remain clear.
Aside from large scale infrastructure projects, Lebanon's public works department does periodically remove sediment and debris from the creek. As recently as January, the cleanup resulted in the removal of 175 tires by Lebanon Stormwater Coordinator Brian Chomicki's approximation. Chomicki said in an email that the tires were removed in the section of Sinking Creek running from Interstate 40 to Legends Drive.
The square is not the only area in Lebanon that is prone to flooding. Baines said that in the last couple months alone, the City Council has "approved engineering agreements to analyze and recommend possible mitigation options to area subdivisions including Hallcroft, Cumberland Drive and Burdock Street."
Lebanon is also exploring technological means of advanced warning. Baines said the city had invested in water elevation sensors that would be installed in various locations of the Sinking Creek watershed.
"We believe this technology should help us develop a warning system that can be communicated to citizens and business areas in advance of these flooding events.
Installations of these sensors could still take some time, as the city explores the best places to put them. Baines said the council, the mayor and public works departments are going to start ramping up conversations in coming weeks as budget items enter the discourse.
Lebanon budget work sessions continue during the next couple weeks. The City Council will have a regularly scheduled council meeting tonight at 6 p.m. in City Hall. The meeting can be viewed virtually on the city's Facebook page.
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