By Rich Heiland
Free Press Publications, LLC
For Walker County News Today
Third in a Series
IF ALL GOES well Huntsville residents will see some improvements in city drainage and flood control, thanks to Hurricane Harvey’s visit a year ago.
City Manager Aron Kulhavy, Police Chief Kevin Lunsford and Fire Chief Greg Mathis all agree the city fared well during Harvey. Lunsford gives a lot of credit to the Town Creek rebuilding project, through the center of town, for that.
“I was amazed we did not have more flooding downtown, and I have to credit the Town Creek project for that,” he said.
But, there was flooding in Elkins Lake and in front of the new HEB at 11thStreet and Highway 75 North. And that is where Kulhavy hopes some help comes.
“We are in the process of submitting applications for Hurricane Harvey money for three projects. The funding will be 75 percent Federal and the state of Texas has said it will provide the 25 percent,” Kulhavy told the Walker Free Press. “We hope to submit by October and get word back by the first of 2019.”
The three projects would be River Oaks Drive at the tennis courts in Elkins Lake; the far end of West Greenbriar Drive in Elkins at the dip before the road rises to the city sewer station; and, the “Trib A” creek that runs along Normal Park Drive, then cuts to the HEB area and goes on to drain into Town Creek.
The two Elkins Lake projects will carry price tags of roughly a million dollars each, and the creek project could go as high as $5 million.
Engineering has been done for River Oaks, which would be elevated over an expanded culvert. Water from Elkins Lake flows out of the spillway, then under River Oaks into Azalea Lake, then ultimately into Camelia, the third and smallest lake. From there it goes into state forest land.
During Harvey water went over an emergency spillway that rarely sees any water. Damage to the area entering Azalea Lake was heavy and there was a reconstruction of a small detention area adjacent to the highway.
In the case of Trib A, Kulhavy said when six inches of rain fell in an hour it showed just how critical that project is.
“It flooded more then than during Harvey,” he said. “That rain flooded places Harvey didn’t.”
IN LOOKING back at Harvey, Lunsford said the city’s pre-planning worked well. All city response were coordinated with the Walker County Emergency Management control center. Lunsford said the real challenges were in Walker County.
“There was a lot more going on out in the county,” Lunsford said. “They had several rescues with boats and high-water vehicles. We really were quiet. Our planning worked, but we weren’t ready for 30 inches of rain.”
While Huntsville had some flooding and trees down it was manageable.
Lunsford had officers working 12-hour shifts and had off-duty officers and staff on call, but he said it never was necessary to call everyone in.
Mathis said there were no unusual situations involving the fire department. He said if there had been most fire vehicles could have gotten through flooded areas.
There were concerns in Elkins. Briefly parts of it were cut off but Mathis said trucks most likely could have gotten through.
Mathis, who then was second-in-command, wasn’t in Huntsville when Harvey hit. He had been deployed with Texas Task Force One to Galveston. When Harvey moved into Houston he was sent there and spent two weeks involved in rescue efforts.
Huntsville also was involved in deployments to Houston, as a staging area. The main fire station and airport, which suffered no damage, were used as massing points for vehicles, crews and other resources needed in Houston.
Lunsford said Harvey was not a big learning experience in terms of what to do next time. That happened a few years ago, he said.
“Katrina and Ike were our learning experiences,” Lunsford said. And, what the department learned worked.
Kulhavy said on the city side, in terms of change, there aren’t major ones coming in Harvey”s wake. . For the most part Harvey showed the value of things the city already was doing, primarily in drainage.
“As far as drainage goes we follow some pretty stringent requirements for new commercial building and subdivisions to where they have to return it to conditions no worse than before they built,” Kulhavy said.
Kulhavy said the only part of the city system that got overwhelmed as the sewer network. The massive influx of storm water did cause some seepage. But beyond that, city services functioned. A few years ago, after Hurricane Ike, the city invested in large generators at key facilities to keep them powered. That included water pumping sites.
All in all, Harvey tested the city but overall pre-planning worked. And, help may be on the way for at least three flood-prone areas.
Part 4 – Elkins Lake
Rich Heiland, former publisher of the Huntsville Item and owner of Free Press publications, LLC, a reporting/writing firm working with media, has been a reporter, editor and publisher at several daily papers. He was part of a Pulitzer Prize winning team. He taught journalism at Western Illinois University. He can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org or 936-293-0293.