August 16, 2013

Residents want action on stormwater

Charles Oliver

— Many people may know McLellan Creek as a gentle stream rushing through Harlan Godfrey Civitan Park. But those who live near the creek know that even a moderate rain can turn it into a destructive channel.

“We have lost about a 7-foot by 20-foot area of land that has just been washed away by water rushing off the mountain,” said Jean Wray O’Neal.

O’Neal was one of about a dozen people who attended a public meeting on Thursday at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church concerning Dalton Utilities’ plans to control stormwater in the area around McLellan Creek as well as plans to reduce stormwater problems in the area stretching from West Hill Cemetery to Lakeshore Park. The utility also held a public meeting on Monday.

Dalton Utilities officials presented the City Council with a plan earlier this month to build a detention pond and park on the former site of the Greater Dalton Chamber of Commerce on College Drive. That would be one of three ponds the utility plans to control flooding along the creek.

The design the utility officials presented would hold one acre-foot of water, or about 42,000 cubic feet. Council members asked the utility to re-examine the site to see if the utility could find ways to expand the volume of water the pond could hold to keep water from rushing off Dug Gap Mountain.

Dalton Utilities President and CEO Don Cope says the utility is looking at forming a stormwater utility that would charge fees to fund ongoing maintenance of the stormwater system as well as give it a funding source that would allow it to borrow money to complete major projects. But he said the utility would need “seed money” to start some of the projects now.

“I can’t go to the bond market and say I’m going to take money from my revenue stream from electrical to pay for something I’m going to do in stormwater,” Cope said.

He said the utility does not have the money to do those major stormwater projects now. In fact, he said, Dalton Utilities has been deferring about $20 million a year in capital upgrades because of the economic downturn and its impact on the utility’s revenues.

Cope said the projects the utility is currently looking at — both on McLellan Creek and in other areas — would cost about $8 million.

“This won’t take care of the problem 100 percent. But it’s a first step and will address some of the issues until we can get the stormwater utility up and running and have a revenue stream and can go to the bond market and raise the money to address some of the larger issues,” Cope said.

He said utility officials are talking to city officials about providing some of that “seed money.”

Residents at the meeting urged the officials to move swiftly on the College Drive project and encouraged them to look at also doing something to control runoff even higher on the mountain near the trade center.