By Jason Massad
The rains may have subsided, but concerns of damaging floods and unchecked stormwater runoff in several areas of Sandy Springs are at the forefront of the minds of many city residents.
A “town hall” meeting at Epstein School drew more than 50 people Monday evening to hear what the city plans to do to alleviate what many consider to be a growing problem that has damaged homes and can lower property values.
The meeting was called by Sandy Springs Councilman Chip Collins, who was flanked by the city’s lawyer, public works director and engineers. The city contingent attempted to quell an ongoing fear in the community that not enough is being accomplished to stem flooding problems in neighborhoods adjacent to Colewood Creek, Marsh Creek and Nancy Creek basins.
Sandy Springs is approaching a legal standoff with Fulton County over responsibility for some of the city’s worst stormwater problems.
However, residents who attended the meeting were less concerned about the legal ins-and-outs of the intergovernmental conflict than they were about what to do about ongoing flooding problems in their back yards.
Bill Cleveland, a resident of Whispering Pines, near Johnson Ferry and Abernathy roads, said that of the 160 homes around his area, about 50 are regularly affected by flooding during heavy rains.
In his yard, rains can create flooding that spreads for 30 feet before eventually filtering into the creek.
“What you get is 3 inches of water draining into the creek,” he said. “You can’t really do anything back there because you have to wait for the water to drain.”
In Sandy Springs, the most acute flooding problem is related to two badly damaged stormwater retention ponds located at Arlington Memorial Cemetery that cause problems during heavy rains for homes along Colewood Way, Colewood Court and other neighborhoods along Colewood Creek, said Tom Black, Sandy Springs’ public works director.
“They’re not holding any water,” Black said. “It just lets water flow through.”
The frustration expressed by some homeowners in the area is that no clear path exists to fix the two ponds. One pond has a breached dam, and the other is silted in to the point that it holds little water.
Black estimated the retention ponds could be repaired for $500,000. However, here’s where things get complicated.
When the Arlington ponds were identified as a problem, the city investigated. Officials from Fulton County built the retention structures decades ago and agreed to build and maintain them on the cemetery property, Black said.
Nothing, however, is being done. Potential negotiations between top officials from Sandy Springs and Fulton County have been cancelled by Fulton County officials at least twice, Black said.
Sandy Springs City Council earlier this month authorized its legal staff to file suit against Fulton County to enforce what Sandy Springs officials say is a legally binding obligation to maintain the ponds.
Fulton County, for its part, maintains the state Constitution prohibits counties from providing such services within city limits. County public works officials, responding via e-mail, said the 2005 incorporation of Sandy Springs removes any responsibility to maintain any flood-control structures inside the city.
The lawsuit could have major financial implications for either the city or the county.
“There’s a lot on the line,” Black said.
Cleveland, for his part, said the city should explore a special utilities district to fund improvements. Before that happens, Sandy Springs needs to determine the entire scope of its stormwater problem. He said that he’s heard numbers as high as several hundred million dollars, but said no real studies have been done to back up that figure.
Brenda Segal, a retired resident of Winterthur subdivision near Riverwood High School, said she turned out for the meeting because of the apparent impasse between Fulton County and Sandy Springs.
She said she found it interesting that Fulton County has stymied efforts by Sandy Springs to resolve the issue. Fortunately for her, she said, her house sits on high ground and is unaffected by flooding – even the torrent that occurred in September 2009.