Some want Arlington to fix creek, not buy their flooded homes

ARLINGTON -- Though many of his neighbors may be eager for the city to buy out their flood-damaged homes, Dick Barry said he isn't quite as willing to walk away from 38 years of memories.

Barry's Southpark Drive home was one of at least 57 along Rush Creek that flooded during Tropical Storm Hermine on Sept. 8. The Arlington City Council hasn't made a decision but appears to be leaning toward buying and tearing down the damaged homes in the Shady Valley area to prevent future flooding.

That plan doesn't sit well with Barry, who said he and some of his neighbors would prefer that Arlington and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers dredge decades of built-up silt and widen the creek so it can better handle storm water. Then they could stay in their homes without fear of flooding. Residents also pushed the city to clean out the creek after the 2004 and 2006 floods.

"I want them to rethink their position," said Barry, whose home had never flooded before. "If they maintained the creek area, I don't think you would find people wanting to leave. We don't want to break up the neighborhood."

The council will continue its deliberations in an executive session Tuesday.

Possible solutions

At least 149 homes and 68 condos citywide were damaged by floodwaters. Most of the damaged homes are along Rush Creek, where flooding has worsened because of development upstream. The city is seeking millions of dollars in federal grants and is considering other funding sources, such as issuing bonds, for a voluntary buyout program for affected homes in the Rush Creek flood plain.

Public Works Director Bob Lowry has said tearing down the homes and creating green space to absorb storm-water runoff is the only practical solution.

"No amount of dredging will stop flooding on Rush Creek," said Lowry, adding that the city would still have to demolish homes to widen the creek enough to effectively handle the storm water. "There's just too much water upstream."

Many of the homes in the Shady Valley area were built before the 1972 corps study helped determine the 100-year flood plain. Lowry said that at that time, there was hardly any development south of Arkansas Lane.

Over the years, that development upstream has increased storm-water runoff flowing into the creek and through the Shady Valley area, he said.

"We have done a really good job of getting storm water into the [storm drain] pipes and into the streets and into the channel," Lowry said. "Almost too good a job. You can't stop it."

Some residents have blamed the flooding on the city -- not only for the lack of major creek maintenance but also for permitting development upstream. Barry said he and his neighbors plan to take council members on a walking tour this week to see the silt buildup for themselves.

Councilwoman Kathryn Wilemon said the city is working diligently to help homeowners.

"There were a whole lot of issues going on with this last flood. It was a tropical storm that brought this," said Wilemon, who lives in the Shady Valley neighborhood. "Yes, the creek has overgrown. It has silted up. Rather than focusing on whose fault it is, I'd like to focus on a solution."

New study

The city was developing plans to significantly widen Rush Creek, but a few months before the most recent flood, it shelved them after learning that the federal flood plain data was based on the 1972 study.

"We realized the flood maps were not accurate," Lowry said.

The city is urging the corps to conduct an updated study to determine the new 100-year flood plain, which would allow the city to restrict new development and would notify current homeowners that they should buy flood insurance, Lowry said. Arlington is also considering sharing the cost of such a study, expected to top $1 million, he said.

But a new study won't protect the existing homes.

Arlington is working with a consultant to apply for a handful of grants from the Federal Emergency Management Agency that would help pay for a voluntary buyout program. It will be at least six months before the city hears whether it will receive any.

More than 75 percent of the 57 homeowners contacted by the city this month, including Barry, have indicated that they would be interested in a buyout.

If the city identifies funding or receives federal grants, it would offer fair market value for homes -- in pre-flood condition and without deductions for being in a flood plain, Lowry said. The city has contracted with an appraisal firm to review properties.

In 2008, Arlington voters approved $12 million in bonds for flood control. Selling those bonds for the Rush Creek project would add about $800,000 a year to the city's debt service payments, Deputy City Manager Fiona Allen has said.

City officials have estimated that buying and tearing down the flood-prone homes could cost $13 million to $18 million. The city has already used $2 million in federal funding to demolish six homes along the creek that repeatedly flooded.

This report includes material from the Star-Telegram archives.

Susan Schrock, 817-390-7639