After Florence flooding, Tidalholm Village residents worry stormwater issues may cause more problems during Michael

Mismanaged stormwater infrastructure is blamed for flooding in a New Hanover County neighborhood.
Mismanaged stormwater infrastructure is blamed for flooding in a New Hanover County neighborhood.(WECT)
Updated: Oct. 8, 2018 at 7:56 PM EDT
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WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - After some residents had floodwater inundate their homes during Hurricane Florence, the prospect of another tropical event in Hurricane Michael is not welcome.

“I feel lucky that we’re not here, because I would be scared,” said Mattie McMurray, who owns a home in the Tidalholm Village neighborhood.

McMurray and her husband Martin Taylor have lived in the neighborhood since 2008, but they are currently displaced due to flooding that occurred in the early hours of Sept. 15.

Tidalholm Village saw two to three feet of water rise due to a failure of the stormwater system, leaving at least 11 homes so damaged, some homeowners are still living elsewhere. McMurray said her street, Lipscomb Drive, has flooded in the past, but not to the level it did during Florence. Fellow homeowner Jackie Autry said even during Hurricane Floyd in 1999, once the storm drains were cleared of debris, the water moved out quickly. During Florence, that was not the case.

Homes saw significant flooding during Hurricane Florence (Source: Mattie McMurray)
Homes saw significant flooding during Hurricane Florence (Source: Mattie McMurray)(Viewer Submitted: Mattie McMurray)

“It’s so frustrating," McMurray said, "I look around and I see all these other neighborhoods that are lower lying than we are. None of them had any flooding issues ... It’s horrible that it happened to anyone, whether it happened from a creek or the river or the ocean, but for us that was not the case. It was floodwater that was poorly managed.”

This summer, McMurray, Autry and others reported minor flooding to the county, asking them to help with what they believed was a blocked out flow behind the neighborhood. When the water couldn’t escape, it would bubble up out of the storm drains and fill the neighborhood.

Two weeks after the storm, Autry said a representative from New Hanover County came out to look at the area, and said the homeowners were correct in their diagnosis of the problem.

County Engineer Jim Iannucci said that while the infrastructure isn’t the county’s responsibility, crews have begun working on the stormwater pipe anyway, trying to prevent another serious flooding problem.

“This was just something to try to alleviate some of the drainage concern,” Iannucci said, adding that while they have been able to partially open up the pipe, work is ongoing, and the work would likely not be 100 percent complete by the time Michael arrives.

That has homeowners a little on edge as the area prepares to get 5-8 inches of rain.

“We’re certainly going to be very diligent watching it,” Autry said.

McMurray echoed his thoughts.

“I’m glad we don’t have any walls, because if it floods, we’ll just have to dry it out again,” McMurray said.

While the county may not be responsible, homeowners want to know who is.

Iannucci said that if the stormwater infrastructure is in the right-of-way or under the street, it is the North Carolina Department of Transportation’s responsibility to maintain it. If it is on private property, it is either that property owner’s or the HOA’s responsibility.

In preparing for the possibility of more significant rainfall, and in trying to identify where the major problems with the infrastructure in their neighborhood are, and who owns the property.

On Monday, residents got together to try to find the paths the water takes under the ground by dropping tennis balls into the storm drain, and watching further down the line. At one point, Autry and others used a pitchfork to dig out algae, gravel and other debris to see if that was causing any slowdowns.

Several neighbors who are currently living in recreational vehicles in their driveways said they plan to move to higher ground before Michael’s effects arrive, just in case.

Dan Denston, another Tidalholm Village resident who had to completely gut his home, said he thinks the issues his neighborhood is facing are a symptom of developers not taking stormwater management into account.

“With the development that’s taking place in Wilmington and New Hanover County, and with these kinds of storms — really take a look at the drainage,” Denston said," "[ask] ‘is the drainage capable of handling the volume of rain and water runoff that is being caused by the new development across the county.’”

He said that’s what it really comes down to.

“You’ve got to be prepared,” he said. “The drainage has to be able to handle the volume of water that comes through.”

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