City officials say they are looking into alternative solutions to address flooding in the wake of two winter storms earlier this month that turned a number of local streets into shallow waterways.
“Heron Street — you could take a surfboard down it,” Mary Volosevich, president of the North East Bay and Canals Civic Association, told the City Council at its March 6 meeting. “You’re all worried about the ocean side, but you have a bay here that’s doing a hell of a lot of damage.”
Homeowners who live along Reynolds Channel suffered some of the worst damage in Hurricane Sandy, and this month’s storms served as a stark reminder of the community’s vulnerability to severe weather, particularly in the Canals and parts of the West End and North Park that typically flood when high tides and heavy rain coincide. No major flooding was reported during Tuesday’s storm.
Volosevich — who is living in Point Lookout while her home is being elevated — and other residents said that some streets and basements were flooded with nearly a foot of water March 2 and 3, and many had to wait to leave their homes until the tide receded. A number of residents also had to park their vehicles on East Pine Street and bridges along the Canals due to the flooding, she said.
She and other residents said that tide-flex valves — which are meant to minimize flooding by allowing water to flow from the streets to the bay, but not in the reverse direction — are not effective, and not maintained properly. They expressed frustration with what they said has been an ongoing issue that preceded Sandy.
“The water is not coming over the bulkheads but from the storm drains,” Volosevich said, adding that she received numerous emails with photos of flooding. “Many people on the end of the Canals or the north side of East Pine Street are constantly threatened by this water — some have not raised their homes, and others who have are in constant fear of losing cars again, or property. If any of you saw those pictures, it’s disgraceful — it’s like a third-world country.”
Councilwoman Anissa Moore said that residents have complained about the effectiveness of the valves for years. “There were several times where the information was questioned and we were told that these valves were effective,” she said. “I painfully watched the flooding that was taking place on Harmon as well as on Heron Street, and there have been other streets that not have been mentioned here. I think it’s time that all of us make a commitment to making a change and really listening.”
Council members and officials acknowledged that tide-flex valves alone are not a solution to a perennial flooding problem, and told residents that they are looking into other devices as part of a $4.4 million, federally funded drainage-improvement project that officials hope to begin in the fall.
“We do know that we have a flooding problem — all different areas of the city flood,” Council President Anthony Eramo told residents, saying that their concerns did not fall on deaf ears. “The tide-flex valves — with the high tides — just don’t seem to cut it. Everyone wants to see this flooding come to an end.”
John Mirando, the city’s commissioner of public works, said that the Governor’s Office of Storm Recovery recently approved the project, one of a number of priorities identified by Long Beach’s Community Reconstruction Program planning committee after Sandy. “When we do those [new drainage] projects, we’ll be looking at alternatives to tide-flex valves,” Mirando said. “One of the things we’ll be looking at are chambers that remove bottles and cans and sediments before they get to the valve.”
Mirando said that the city was also moving forward with the committee’s top priority, a $12.4 million project to protect the bayfront with bulkheading, with construction also set to begin this fall, although that work will now only cover city-owned property (see sidebar).
He added that over the past several years, the city has installed 33 tide-flex valves using capital funds. Additionally, there have been 36 road-improvement projects throughout Long Beach since 2012 — six per budget year, officials said — many of which included sewer and drainage upgrades that have helped reduce flooding.
“Once the bulkheads are done in the Canals, we’ll be able to reconstruct those Canals streets,” Mirando said. “Right now, it wouldn’t make any sense, but once the bulkhead is up to the base flood elevation, we can come in and do road work on those projects in the Canals.”
The city received five responses to its request for proposals for the CRP drainage project, which are currently under review. Once the governor’s office approves the city’s proposed consultant for the design work, a contract would require approval by the City Council, Mirando said.
While city crews regularly clean out the valves and storm drains, he explained, moving forward, the city will require a contractor better equipped to maintain the tide-flex valves to perform regular maintenance on the existing devices. “The problem is, you get cans or bottles into the valve and it doesn’t shut, and it’s a maintenance headache,” Mirando said. “Some of the valves are located on the outside of the bulkhead and can only be cleaned when tide is low and by boat.”
The drainage improvements are slated for West Park Avenue, between New York and Nevada avenues; National Boulevard, between West Broadway and the boardwalk; East Pine Street, between Park Place and Long Beach Boulevard; and East Bay Drive, between Franklin and Neptune boulevards.
“This CRP project covers four of the major areas with significant flooding,” Mirando said.