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Pensacola Hosts Stormwater Symposium

Alan Gray

The Pensacola City Council and Escambia County Commission hosted a stormwater symposium Friday morning, with both promising to cooperate on ways to control flooding. The session was held before a packed room at the Pensacola Bay Center.

Torrential rainfall in late April totaled 27 inches in the Pensacola area in a 24-hour period. The resultant flood caused massive damage to roadways – including four parts of Scenic Highway that were washed out. Flooding also swamped some businesses downtown.

In the City of Pensacola’s presentation, City Administrator Colleen Castille says engineering and drainage impact studies now underway are concentrating on the areas that were hit the hardest.

“What we consider the bottom of the hill in our community – downtown, the Aragon area, and Guillemard,” said Castille, “and we also have a study of the Piedmont area that’s been flooded for the first time since its development.”

County Administrator Jack Brown delivered Escambia’s presentation, which centered around a process he calls “sustainable drainage.”

“The philosophy is that you try to mimic the natural drainage as much as possible,” said Brown. “You manage the water as close to the source as you can….until it goes somewhere else.”

The main speaker for the event was David Waggonner – a New Orleans-based architect and expert on flood control. During his 15-minute address, Waggonner told the gathering that money will have to be spent towards mitigating any future problems with stormwater runoff. One question is from where will the money come? Other questions deal with how to address individual projects, such as replacing the century-old pipes in some locations.

“The pipes are going to have to be improved, but how much of the money are you going to put into the pipes?” asked Waggonner. “Where are you going to do the remedies in there, where is the surgery you need to do in those situations? Are you going to invest all your money in that? I hope not, because the return’s less.”

The Escambia County Commission is involved with organizing a team of experts to work on developing upgrades in flood control. Commissioner Gene Valentino is heading up formation of the task force. He says it will expensive, and that’s why the feds need to play a role.

“We want FEMA at the table as well,” said Valentino. “After all, it was FEMA walking down main street 10 years ago almost to the day, recognizing the travesty of Hurricane Ivan, and finding a way within weeks to come up with $250 million to help retrofit a complete water-sewer system for this community.”

Up until now, stormwater remedies have included additional pumps and pipes, and retention ponds such as Admiral Mason Park downtown. Flood expert David Waggonner, on the other hand, favors creations of greener methods, such as canals that imitate creeks that were paved over, and landscaping that slows the flow of excess water until it’s naturally absorbed.