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Flowery Branch culvert collapse highlights town’s ongoing stormwater woes
City leaders look for funding to modernize drainage needs
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The culvert at Cantrell Road Bridge near Victoria Drive was washed out by stormwater overnight on Friday, June 1. - photo by David Barnes

The blowout of a Flowery Branch culvert during recent heavy rains served as another costly reminder of this South Hall County town’s longtime and still lingering stormwater woes.

Downtown Flowery Branch particularly has been affected by water. Part of the growing city was basically built on a hillside, with Gainesville Street on higher ground and Atlanta Highway at the bottom.

As result, major rains have cause serious headaches for the city.

One of the worst times was on May 19, 2013, when 7 inches fell overnight, collapsing roads and culverts, stranding residents and flooding offices.

A culvert on Spring Street, repaired after a 2009 collapse, fell again in the 2013 storm — just months after a hydrological study of the Flowery Branch Creek basin was done — and was later replaced with a bridge.

In the latest rains, stemming from Subtropical Storm Alberto remnants, the Spring Street bridge “performed as designed and didn’t seem to have any stress on it at all,” City Manager Bill Andrew said in an interview last week.

The Cantrell Road culvert didn’t fare as well, collapsing overnight June 1, leaving a gash in the earth and exposed utility pipes. Residents weren’t stranded, as they were both times when Spring Street fell, but Cantrell connects to two major roads, Atlanta Highway/Ga. 13 and Thurmon Tanner Parkway.

The good news is city officials had been planning to replace the Cantrell culvert using special purpose local option sales tax money and other funds.

After finding out earlier this year they might qualify for some additional state money for the project, city leaders were looking at “replacing two or three of those culvert systems, depending on how much money we had,” Andrew said.

Other Flowery Branch Creek culverts are on East Main Street, Phil Niekro Boulevard and Mulberry Street.

“This (recent rain) sort of sped up the whole (Cantrell) project,” Andrew said.

Otherwise, the city is wrapping up a stormwater improvements project that was tied to construction of the new City Hall downtown on Pine Street. City Hall opened earlier this year.

“What we wanted to do is put in stormwater (pipes) underground to not only serve City Hall but the properties above City Hall going up toward Gainesville Street,” Andrew said. “We found that about a 20-acre area drains to the City Hall area.”

Janet Upchurch, owner of Sample Pleasures on Main Street, said she would like to see the city put in a drainage ditch near her building and attach it to a storm drain.

Her antiques business — housed in a building that dates, Upchurch believes, to 1874 — sits at the bottom of Main Street, which runs uphill to Gainesville Street. Water in her basement after big rains has long been a problem.

“I’m worried that (water) has been going under (the basement) for a long time,” she said.

And Upchurch believes others in the area may also be severely affected.

The city “needs to stop building new buildings and getting grants for roundabouts and stuff like that to address what is important to the infrastructure of the town,” she said.

Flowery Branch is considering other stormwater fixes, even though “there’s nothing on paper,” Andrew said.

Officials eventually hope to replace open, earthen ditches with more modern drains — a safety issue, as well as an environmental one, and a project that would come with a hefty price tag.

“If you go down certain streets ... you have the end of the pavement and then a fairly significant ditch,” Andrew said.

“We have a definite sense of what needs to be done,” he added, “but at this point, we don’t have funding for it.”

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