CONYERS — Many years of poor maintenance, along with torrential rains in April, June and July, caused flooded roads, destroyed storm drains and culverts and left the Rockdale County Stormwater Department scrambling not only to provide enough repairs to reopen closed roads, but also to provide more permanent solutions.
The department also needs more funding to repair and replace more than 188 miles of piping and more than 18,900 drainage structures. That was a big topic of discussion at the county budget workshop held at the Legacy Lodge at Lake Lanier on Wednesday and Thursday.
Prior to the current Board of Commissioners , Stormwater was just a division of Planning and Zoning, but in 2018, the BOC made it into its own department, with Todd Cosby named director. At the budget workshop Wednesday, Cosby updated the commissioners and other department directors on the events of the past six months.
On April 19, from 4.5 to 6 inches of rain fell on Rockdale in a six-hour period. Cosby noted that based on historical data, a storm like this occurs every 50 to 200 years, and the county hasn’t seen rain like that in a long time. The deluge overwhelmed storm drains and culverts, causing 17 failures that led to 17 road closures.
More heavy rains on June 8 and July 5 added to their woes as five more roads were closed due to culvert collapses. To date, 12 of the 22 roads closed have been repaired and reopened, and three more are scheduled to reopen in the next two weeks.
But, said Cosby, many of the repairs are basically temporary fixes put in to get the roads back open, and sometimes those fixes don’t work.
“Squire Lane was washed out April 19,” he said. “We filled in the sinkhole and cleaned out the obstruction and it was fixed. Then on June 8 we had a large enough storm that it overtopped the road again and washed it out even more. Now it is completely closed and we’re having to replace those pipes with large enough pipes that will be permanent fixes. We’ll be doing that this fall.
“Corrugated metal piping is what is under there,” continued Cosby. “Now we’re using reinforced concrete, and it depends on the size and the material. The larger box culverts have to be cast in cement and there is about a 14-week lead time.”
Cosby gave another example of a more permanent replacement on Ebenezer Road that was recently completed, and what work crews found when they got ready to take the old corrugated storm drain out.
“At that location (just north of Ga. Highway 138), there was a bridge there at one time,” he said. “When the bridge failed, they put in a large corrugated metal pipe and covered it back up. When that pipe started to fail, they put (wood) timbers inside the pipe to prop it up. We didn’t find it until the thing started to collapse. I don’t know if it was 10 or 20 years ago, but somebody had the bright idea of ‘instead of replacing that pipe, let’s prop it up with the timbers.’
“We replaced that with a brand new corrugated metal pipe as a temporary measure while we had a reinforced concrete bridge cast especially for that location,” he said. “It was brought in on huge lowboy trailers and was lifted into place by a crane that had to be brought from Texas. There are only a few cranes capable of lifting that, and this crane came from Texas; that was the closest one. The bridge came from Alabama. It took about 15 weeks from the time we requested the bridge to getting it put into place.”
Cosby added that they were able to complete the project under budget and reopen the road 10 weeks ahead of schedule.
Rockdale Fire Rescue Chief Dan Morgan expressed concern over heavy emergency vehicles having to cross over roadways with pipes like that under them, not knowing if the road would collapse under the weight at any time.
BOC Chair Oz Nesbitt Sr. added that could also happen with school buses loaded with children and said they are now having to deal with infrastructure that was not kept up in the past.
“It has been neglected and now in this administration, Mother Nature is turning loose and we’re having to do what other folks didn’t do,” said Nesbitt. “They didn’t maintain it. They didn’t find the funding for it. Because of years of neglect, things were already happening, but when the April 19 storm came through, it brought all those problems to light.
“I feel the pain of the community,” he added, “because when citizens tell me their back yard looks like Lake Erie, I get that. But guess what, we can only get to it as fast as we can get to it. We’ve got situations popping up all over the county, and we’ve only got 11 people (two work crews) to handle them... It is a real public safety issue.”
The Stormwater Department had Brown and Caldwell do a study to evaluate the condition of the county’s stormwater infrastructure and the cost of necessary and needed replacements. The study showed:
♦ From 2016 to 2025, the cost would be $121,073 million.
♦ From 2026 to 2035, the cost would be $100,075 million.
♦ From 2036 to 2045, the cost would be $2.2 million.
Cosby said the cost goes down as more permanent structures go into place that don’t need as much maintenance and repair.
Stormwater has annual revenues of $2.1 million, but is having to use a third party collection agency to collect past due stormwater fees at a cost of 28% of the funds collected. The county is studying a proposal to add the annual stormwater fees to the property tax bills as is done in DeKalb County, but no decision has been made yet, and that would only affect future fee revenue.
Cosby said they had been able to build a reserve fund, but have burned through a lot of that trying to keep up with repairs and replacements.
Stormwater used to have a Top 25 list of projects, but that has now expanded to 86 projects and they are being prioritized according to the public safety impact. Cosby said they are working with Terminus Municipal Advisors to obtain a $20 million GEFA loan later this year which will help them finance some of their top priority projects.
Cosby said they are also looking at the possibility of raising stormwater fees to fund the projects.
Finally, he said Stormwater is seeking to add eight more field crew personnel in the 2020 budget in order to have three full crews out working on the projects.
County departments are now developing their budgets and a proposed budget will be presented in October, with public hearings on the budget in November, and the BOC approving the 2020 budget in December.