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Flowery Branch to focus on stormwater study
City seeks solution to erosion problems
City Manager Bill Andrew takes a look at a culvert that frequently overflows during heavy rains Thursday on the side of the road at Church Street in Flowery Branch. The city is moving toward a stormwater management study. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

Until it made some repairs late last year, Flowery Branch had a clear example of how stormwater issues have plagued the South Hall town.

During hard rains, water would pour down Main Street, which slopes steadily from a ridge on Gainesville Street, and deluge the sidewalk in front of City Hall.

"We also were having problems with water hitting the flagpole there," said City Manager Bill Andrew, pointing at the U.S. flag standing upright at the end of Main Street near a red caboose that's a virtual Flowery Branch landmark.

"It was sheeting over the road and undermining (a park) bench and foundation of the caboose."

The city is moving toward a stormwater management study, as encouraged particularly by Mayor Mike Miller and new Councilman Damon Gibbs at the Jan. 5 Flowery Branch City Council meeting.

Miller said he believes the city is "well positioned to accommodate future growth," but it must confront such challenges as stormwater.

Flowery Branch's primary issue is the older part of town is basically built on a hillside, with Gainesville Street at the peak and Flowery Branch Creek at the bottom of the basin.

In addition to downtown, several culverts cross the creek, which runs largely parallel to Atlanta Highway, a main road through Flowery Branch.

The Spring Street culvert collapsed Dec. 9, 2009, after a night of steady rainfall, stranding residents in a 50-unit apartment complex. That project cost the city $150,000, including the construction of a temporary road.

"That's a liability that's floating around out there that could come any day, depending on the weather," City Planner James Riker said during a March 2011 City Council retreat. "We don't know how long we have to act."

Johnny Thomas, the city's public works director, and Andrew gave The Times a tour last week of stormwater problem areas around downtown.

The area relies heavily on open ditches and drainage pipes under driveways to move water along.

The lack of sidewalks and underground stormwater pipes, as well as ditch erosion, has created sharp drop-offs on shoulders of the city's narrow streets.

Andrew particularly noted the intersection of Railroad Avenue and Spring Street, where too sharp of a turn has resulted in a mishap for vehicles.

The city is looking at sending out a request for proposals from engineering firms to develop a stormwater study.

With $30,000 budgeted for the effort, the study likely will only go as far as generally identifying the areas most needing repair or improvement, and the dollar amounts for those fixes.

"It'll give us a general sense of prioritizing where we start," Andrew said.

Projects likely will need to begin at the bottom of the hill, where the most water collects, rather than at the top of the hill.

Bottom-of-the-hill projects also need the biggest structures and most engineering work, translating to high expense.

"The velocities and quantities are so huge, you really have to be careful with what you're dealing with," Andrew said.

Fortunately, the city has been able to keep serious issues at bay.

"We haven't had a problem with flooding necessarily," Andrew said. "It's more of a (case of) the stormwater quality being pretty poor. It's collecting a lot of sediment, and the (state Environmental Protection Division) is beginning to take more of an interest in that.

"All this water flows into Flowery Branch Creek and all of that water flows into (Lake Lanier)."

Thomas said that every time it rains, "we get out and make sure the throats of the ditches are open and clean them out (as needed). This time of year is the worst, with the leaves and all.

"Everybody wants to rake their leaves to the ditch."

The city has a few areas of underground piping and drains.

Flowery Branch spent $250,000 on a series of sidewalks and underground stormwater pipes along Railroad Avenue, between Snelling Avenue and Main Street, as part of a state Transportation Enhancement grant.

The city used the contractor on that project to install a drop inlet across Main Street at Church Street to lessen impact of water flowing down Main Street.

The stormwater study, once it gets started, could take completed about two months to complete, officials said.

"The next step would be ... is to look at particular problems and get engineering drawings for construction," Andrew said.