Ideas in reserve

Monday, November 1, 2004

Four representatives of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers rolled into Jackson last week, armed with a laptop computer and a PowerPoint presentation.

They used terms like hydrology, hydraulics and a Section 205 study.

But what they were really talking about, in the most basic form, is flood insurance for the city of Jackson.

The corps group, based in St. Louis, has been quietly crunching numbers and studying water maps of the three main creeks in Jackson for the past couple of years.

Jackson's city officials asked the corps to look at Hubble, Goose and Williams creeks and find out if a reservoir system, one that would control flash flooding, would be in the best interest of the city.

City engineer Dan Triller is concerned that rapid development in Jackson and north of the city could make flooding a major problem in the future. As roofs and parking lots are built, the area that once used to soak up rain now simply pushes it somewhere else. Creeks fill up more quickly as a result.

It's Triller's belief that planning now will save a flood of problems later.

So the corps took flood maps and studied the issue. On Monday night, the representatives outlined their findings, which are still preliminary.

Among other things, they found:

The Hubble Creek and Goose Creek watersheds warrant more study based on cost-benefit ratios; the Williams Creek reservoir system does not.

The estimated costs for the Hubble and Goose creek systems would be $5.6 million and $1.3 million, respectively.

The benefits of the systems would be insurance, or what the town could save in damages. A reservoir system would hold water and change the flood plains, protecting businesses and homes from the effects of a 100-year flood.

According to Deanne Strauser, who gave the presentation on behalf of the corps Monday night, the economic specialists looked at potential damages to vehicles and buildings and miscellaneous items like what it would cost for sandbagging.

It was determined that for every dollar that would be spent on the reservoirs, the city would see a long-term return of 60 cents on the Goose Creek project and 6 cents on the Hubble Creek project, assuming there were a 100-year flood.

Jackson stands to sustain quite a bit of damage in two areas of town, should a 100-year flood occur, Triller said.

The industrial area near the Rubbermaid plant and the shopping center area between Main and Washington streets where the Main Street Lanes, Dollar General and Delmonico's are located are prone to 100-year floods.

The system would require cooperation from several entities. The plans call for 11 reservoirs, or small lakes, to be built on the north section of the Hubble Creek watershed. Three would be needed for Goose Creek.

Strauser said the exact locations of the reservoirs haven't been determined.

Because the reservoirs would be built north of the city, the city would need cooperation from county officials as well as property owners.

The next step

The city is far from making any decisions. This was the first public presentation of the "initial evaluation" stage, which was paid for by the Corps of Engineers.

If the city wants to go to the next step, which is a more detailed feasibility report, it would have to split the costs of the study.

"What I'd recommend, if anything, would be to start with one creek," Triller said. "But we just don't have $200,000 laying around, so we'll have to talk about some type of ways of financing the project."

While there are some grants available and other government agencies that would partner in the study, eventually voters may get to choose whether they want the insurance. To complete the project, the city may need to pass a bond issue or new sales tax.

The state allows cities to propose up to a 3/4-cent parks and storm-water sales tax. Triller said it may be possible to turn the reservoirs into park areas.

Jackson Mayor Paul Sander said it would be difficult for the city to bear the cost of the entire project.

While the city of Jackson hasn't asked for a bond issue since 1997, the reservoir issue was one of two topics discussed Monday night that would involve a tax increase of some sort.

At the same meeting, fire chief Brad Golden talked about the upcoming need for an additional fire station in order to maintain its fire rating and keep home insurance costs from going up.

"We've done a tremendous job with our water, sewer and electric updates in planning for the future," Sander said. "But growth doesn't come without a price."

Sander said he believed the fire safety issue would be a higher priority in the short term than storm-water protection.

Regardless, the creek issues won't go away.

"At the very least it's good information to have so the city can do proactive planning instead of reactive," Strauser said. "So it's been a good idea, a good study."


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