Some city officials and Buckhead residents are prescribing widely divergent fixes for flooding and sewage overflow problems in Atlanta Memorial Park.
City watershed management officials say they plan to spend about $400,000 over the next three to nine months to raise five manholes on a sewer line through the park. They also plan to speed up plans and soon do more than $30 million in other repairs, including repairing and lining a 90-inch pipe that was installed in 1910 and now runs beneath the park.
“We have accelerated the work on the Peachtree [Creek] watershed,” Watershed Management Commissioner Jo Ann Macrina told members of the City Council’s utilities committee meeting at City Hall on March 9, the day after Mayor Kasim Reed, other city officials and residents of the area toured the Buckhead park to discuss the flooding and sewer leaks.
Raising the manholes by about 2 feet should keep water from flowing into the sewer line and causing future sewage leaks like those reported during heavy rains in December, Macrina said. City watershed employees also said they are asking parks officials to consider moving a playground in the park out of the flood plain.
“Our work is not done,” Macrina told the committee. “We have reduced the number of spills. The main problem in Memorial Park is spills.”
But residents and at least one council member seemed to think the city’s plans didn’t go far enough.
Resident Justin Wiedeman, an engineer who studied the city’s system, told committee members that ending sewage flooding in the Peachtree Creek basin could require a large relief tunnel or finding ways of taking more stormwater out of the system. “Unfortunately,” he said, “this is something that would cost a lot of money to fix.”
City Councilwoman Mary Norwood questioned why the city shouldn’t install a new underground storage system, similar to the one built in the Nancy Creek watershed, that could hold overflows during heavy rains.
“Why wouldn’t we do the relief tunnel?” she asked. “With Nancy Creek, we decided to go deep and do a relief tunnel. … Why wouldn’t we put a similar system for Peachtree [Creek]? Why wouldn’t we do a long-term fix for Peachtree Creek.”
Macrina said the two areas weren’t comparable. “It is a very different situation than Nancy Creek,” she said. “You can’t use the same solution. … We don’t want to spend between $500 million and $2 billion on a storage system where it would not be effective.”
Norwood told the Buckhead Council of Neighborhoods at its March 10 meeting that she was frustrated and was “heated” about the lack of answers at the utilities committee meeting that went on for more than three hours.
Dist. 8 City Councilmember Yolanda Adrean said she was also pressing for more answers and a long-term solution.
“I’ve asked Watershed Management to give us a 30-year solution,” Adrean said. “I keep hearing ideas for repairs, but what we need is modeling for a 30-year solution.”
Adrean acknowledged the lawsuit brought by Chattahoochee Riverkeeper and its founder Sally Bethea in 1995 that forced Atlanta to sign a consent decree promising to fix its sewers and remove trash from 37 miles of city streams. “We had a federal judge force us to address our issues. We’re lucky, because other cities haven’t been forced to the table yet, but they will be. Look at what’s happened in Flint, Mich.”
The city is still under that decree, and Adrean said the EPA had recently extended a deadline to give Atlanta more time to clean up its system. Adrean said the extension of the 1 cent sales tax by voters on March 1 for water and sewer infrastructure repairs would go far to address issues.
“But we won’t ever be finished,” Adrean said about the city’s ongoing water and sewer issues. “Anyone who owns a house – how many times have you replaced an air conditioner or refrigerator? We’re never going to be done. But it’s important that we understand where the hot spots are in the city and we prioritize toward solutions.”
Adrean said that as more construction takes place in Midtown and Buckhead that means less impervious services and more potential for flooding and sewer issues. She and Councilman Howard Shook have asked for a study to see what Peachtree Street and Road will look like when completely built out so the city can know what sort of future water and sewer issues it faces.
During the March 8 tour at the park, residents pointed out to Reed and Macrina places they had seen sewer lines break or spew sewage during floods in recent years. About 45 people took part in the tour.
One participant, Anne Barratt, said she lives across the street from a sewer line that broke and had to be replaced. “It was messy. There was an odor. It was just an unpleasant time around here,” she said.
“The people who live in the neighborhood want to know what they’re going to do …,” she said. “It was great to see the mayor here. His face time gives us confidence they are taking it seriously.”
Reed said city officials will fix the park’s problems and will involve representatives of the neighborhoods in developing a plan to address the leaks and overflows. “The biggest mistake we could make is to spend millions of dollars and not involve the neighborhood,” he said.
–Collin Kelley contributed to this report.