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Flowery Branch discusses how to pay for storm damage
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Flowery Branch City Council agreed Thursday to quickly repair damage to its citywide culvert system caused May 19 by heavy storms and flooding.

Members agreed to move on potential design and timing of the culvert system revision, but still are discussing whether to complete the project in a piecemeal fashion or as a single project.

Addressing the culvert system as a single project would require a loan of nearly $1 million, City Manager Bill Andrew said. At least one council member balked at the idea. But Andrew said interest on a loan would equal some of the cost of road repairs if the council chooses to break the project into separate pieces.

City Finance Director Jeremy Perry said the 2014 budget can be reconfigured to make it work. Andrew also noted grant funding was recently made available.

Perry said that if a loan were pursued, in five years the budget would return to its previous standing and there would be no need to increase the tax millage rate.

“Fortunately, the city was in solid standing with the capital improvement fund,” Perry said.

“It won’t impact the taxpayers one dollar,” Councilman Damon Gibbs said. “It (the flooding) has forced us to reprioritize as well.”

The flooding affected a half-dozen of the concrete box and arch structures designed to route excess stormwater from roadways and adjacent buildings. One stretch of Atlanta Highway was made impassable due to flooding and several businesses were affected. One Flowery Branch family lost their home to floodwaters. Cantrell and Spring Streets also suffered complete failures and associated road washouts.

Five additional culverts also struggled to detour the water that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration determined to be in excess of a 100-year flood. NOAA said about 5.46 inches of rain fell in three hours, said Shaugn McReynolds of Pond & Co., the city’s engineering consultant.

That 100-year figure is a benchmark for road construction requirements that Georgia Department of Transportation interstate culvert systems are built to withstand.

Council members also are concerned about where liability for the failures might be placed. Mayor Mike Miller has publicly pointed the finger toward Norfolk Southern Corp.

Since the 1950s, the railroad has maintained three culverts under its rail lines that divert excess water into Lake Lanier. All three were found to have failed earlier this year and were replaced by a single pipe of lesser capacity, according to Pond & Co. engineers. A permanent fix requires Norfolk Southern and U.S. Army Corps of Engineer agreement, as the corps oversees waterways.

Miller blames the inadequacy of the replaced pipe and subsequent flooding.

Norfolk Southern officials have said that the reconfigured pipe system was not the issue, but rather too much rainfall in too short a time.

“The situation there is that we were faced with a 100-year flood situation ... better than 100-year flood conditions,” Norfolk Southern corporate spokesman Rick Harris said in response to earlier questions of liability.
“We are going to submit a claim to Norfolk Southern,” said Andrew, who said that Norfolk Southern officials had encouraged the pursuit. But, he said, discussions are now being conducted through Norfolk Southern attorneys.

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