Alderwoman Jacquie Gist wants to make Rachel Maddow proud by setting infrastructure investment as a top budget priority.
The Board of Aldermen opened its 2016-17 budget discussion Tuesday by going around the table and talking about what each member wants to emphasize in the upcoming budget process.
“My priority is improving our storm water management,” said Gist. “Let’s make Rachel Maddow proud of us by putting money into infrastructure. We have to be protecting our town from flooding.”
Maddow, an MSNBC anchor, has often reported on the need for infrastructure investment nationally, calling it an “unsexy but necessary” need that only the government can fulfill.
The issue is larger than a particular neighborhood or even the town, says Gist.
“We need to partner with OWASA. Their culverts have a fair amount to do with this,” she said. “Chapel Hill should be in this, too. It’s foolish for any one town to try to take this on.”
Earlier this month, the board received a report from J.D. Freeman, director of Public Works, reviewing storm damage that occurred in late December. Flooding at 116-118 Carol St. was highlighted for the board. There are two 36-inch culverts in nearby Toms Creek that were overwhelmed by the rain in December.
OWASA is considering replacing those culverts with one measuring 72 inches in diameter. That would help those Carol Street properties, but OWASA is conducting hydrologic studies to determine what the downstream effect would be, seeking to avoid unintended consequences.
Freeman said making changes in the culverts will result in a redrawing of the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) flood plain maps and that process becomes complex.
Many homes now in the flood plain will come out of it, said Freeman, but some downstream will see flooding more frequently and with smaller storms. Alderman Sammy Slade cautioned residents to understand that the town may take actions to mitigate the most extreme storm water issues, but will likely not be able to mitigate the smaller incidents of flooding that occur with more frequent, smaller storms.
The hydrological study should give the board some insight about what specific neighborhoods would be affected and how often, Freeman said.
The aldermen’s conversation with OWASA and other officials must be strategic and high level, said Gist. She also suggested that some homeowners associations be involved as well.
Town Manager David Andrews said this will be back on the board’s agenda at its March 1 meeting.