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WATER VALLEY – Main Street business owners who sustained water damage during a heavy rain the night of August 14 expressed concern about drainage issues that led to the flooding at Trusty Diner and other buildings on the 200 block of Main Street. Erika Walden and Lawton Gafford also shared frustration with the lack of communication with city officials following the flood damage that ruined sheetrock and flooring in the building as well as an HVAC unit.
Walden was first to address city officials during the monthly board meeting on Sept. 7, explaining that she was disheartened and deeply disappointed after the city’s drainage system failed and also with the breakdown in communication. Walden pleaded for assurance that city officials are working to address the issues.
“Store owners have withstood countless obstacles this last year and a half. Businesses are struggling, we are trying to keep ourselves, our companies, jobs, livelihoods and the city from disappearing,” Walden explained. “This has been a very tough 17 months, keeping up with and executing new mandated regulations, Covid protocol, health and safety concerns for our staff and mask mandates. No one from city government has ever visited us. At least to see how our business was staying afloat or maybe to see if we needed some support or encouragement,” Walden explained.
She said they reached out to city officials the day after the flood.
“No one from this office (city hall) came to assess the damage to our building. With no significant response from the city, we reached out to our alderman, who graciously paid us a visit and saw the damage to our operation. We were shocked to find out that she had not even been informed. This saddens me so much, not only for business owners, but for the city as a whole,” Walden said.
Walden also noted that they had previously shared concerns about drainage issues in the city over a year ago. During that visit they noted that water wasn’t draining properly due to tree limbs and plant growth that impedes drainage.
“We want to be good community partners. We know our city flourishes when businesses are protected and supported. I think we would all like to be resourceful collaborators in order to mutually benefit our town. It breaks my heart to not feel supported within our own elected government officials. I am hurt, but believe we are all good, kind people and can move forward together,” Walden said.
Gafford was next to speak, first thanking Ward 3 Alderperson Bonnie Cox for stopping by to survey the damage.
“I was fortunate that Thursday night, I was there at 9 p.m. when the water breached the building. I was able to get ServPro there by about 11:30 that night to start remediation. I was ahead of the game, versus some of our neighbors who came in that next morning and the water had been sitting overnight,” the restaurateur explained.
Gafford also said he did not have flood insurance, so there was no coverage for the repairs.
“I was told the city required flood insurance until they put the storm drain system in, and then it was no longer required,” Gafford added.
Mayor Donald Gray was first to address the concerns, first explaining he owns a building on Main Street that was also flooded the same night.
“We had over five inches of rain in three and a half hours time. A lot of debris from all the way up Wagner Street washed down, came across the parking lot and stopped up the drains,” Gray said.
Next the mayor said he has meet with engineers with Willis Engineering to work to secure grants to try to stop some of the flooding issues in Water Valley.
“We are Water Valley, everything rolls downhill into the valley part of Main Street,” Gray explained. “We are trying to address the problems, there are some very serious ditching problems and erosion going on. We do realize it, we are trying. A lot of it takes grant money, we are addressing some of these problems.”
The mayor also noted that the August 14 flooding incident was the second time the city experienced flooding in 2021.
Gray also clarified that cities cannot require anyone to get flood insurance.
“Mortgage companies can, and most banks now will just about require you to take flood insurance to close a loan,” Gray added about properties located inside the flood plain.
I wish it had not happened,” Gray reiterated.
“Are you saying that this could continue to happen?” Walden asked.
“No ma’am, I told you we are getting engineers to look at the problem,” Gray answered.
“I know, but right before (Hurricane) Ida nobody came to see us. We were worried we needed to get sand bags ourselves. I am asking you, we need to know as a block that this is getting taken care of,” Walden said.
“Did we not clean the drainage out?” Gray asked.
“You didn’t say boo to us,” Walden countered.
“I didn’t know about your problem until two days later,” Gray explained.
“We came here the day after and told you,” Walden said about a trip to city hall to report the problem.
“I know you are upset,” Gray said.
“Don’t tell me I didn’t tell you,” Walden said.
“I think her main concern is, is this is a once-in-a-lifetime event,” Gafford explained about future problems that could arise from heavy rainfall.
“I hope it is, but we don’t know. We are working on it,” Gray answered.
“We are working off a budget, not hope. What are we going to do, sell a building that floods? Rent it to somebody else?” Gafford asked.
“I think what the mayor is trying to say is that we identified the problem as a city,” City Attorney Daniel Martin explained. “We recognize it. He has met with Willis Engineering so we can move forward. We have done the minimal things the city can do on its own, which is cleaning up some of the litter. We will make efforts in the future to keep that progress up.
Martin said larger remediation projects, such as building retaining pools would require grant funding.
“That is what he is trying to explore with Willis,” Martin said.
“I understand, but we asked for that well over a year and a half ago,” Walden said, again expressing frustration with communicating with city officials about the drainage problems.
“I need some reassurance that you want a business to even stay afloat there,” Walden stressed.
“I think we have tried to explain that,” Gray said.
“I can assure you that I want your business to stay afloat… and I think the board members share that desire,” Martin said.
Ward One Alderman Ron Hart next questioned if sediment has been removed from the city’s box culvert drainage system that starts under Railroad Street and runs under a portion of the city.
“Every five years or so we used to go in there with machines and get it. It is time for it now,” Street Department Superintendent Michael Scroggins answered.
“I have been here for 43 years, I have seen this city flood worse that y’all can even think about back in the early 1980s,” Scroggins said. He also noted that during that time the area north of Mechanics Bank was more prone to flooding.
“That never flooded before, even after that new storm system that was put in,” Scroggins said about the 200 block of Main Street.
“I did come by your place after I was told. We came over and cleaned up,” Scroggins said. He also noted that property owners share responsibility in helping keep debris cleaned up to help keep storm drains from clogging up.