Chapel Hill News

Chapel Hill council moves ahead with Booker Creek stormwater plans

A Chapel Hill consultant’s study has identified the 5.5-acre floodplain between the new Alexan apartment building, in the background, and Eastgate Crossing shopping center as a priority area. A $1.1 million plan to expand the floodplain could increase the amount of water held in the area before slowly releasing it downstream, improving water quality and also reducing the flood risk.
A Chapel Hill consultant’s study has identified the 5.5-acre floodplain between the new Alexan apartment building, in the background, and Eastgate Crossing shopping center as a priority area. A $1.1 million plan to expand the floodplain could increase the amount of water held in the area before slowly releasing it downstream, improving water quality and also reducing the flood risk. tgrubb@newsobserver.com

The Town Council approved moving ahead Wednesday with design and permitting for five projects that could help reduce flooding and improve water quality in the Lower Booker Creek subwatershed.

The estimated $5.9 million construction cost is roughly 20 percent of a consultant’s recommendation for 1,130 acres from Weaver Dairy Road south to the meeting of Bolin, Booker and Little creeks.

The council’s decision stopped short of adding the projects to the 2020 Comprehensive Plan, which guides the town’s future growth. Council member George Cianciolo said adding plans that lack details and final costs to the document could create unrealistic public expectations.

“In looking at some of this, there is the potential that we’re going to need land acquisition. We don’t know the cost of that land acquisition. Until you begin your actual design, you don’t know what the construction costs are,” Cianciolo said. “I think intentionally incorporating it into the master plan at this point is promising the public something that we don’t know we can deliver on.”

Town Manager Roger Stancil will bring detailed plans to the council before construction begins.

Residents have raised concerns about flooding in the Lower Booker Creek area for years and more recently about how Ephesus-Fordham district redevelopment might add to the risk. The subwatershed is largely developed with steep slopes, limiting potential solutions, a W.K. Dickson consultant reported.

“Flooding out’

It’s time to take action, Mayor Pam Hemminger said.

“Local governments end up being responsible for the water quality in their watershed, and we, as the local government, would be responsible for fixing and doing and making those changes,” she said. “That gets harder and more expensive as we develop more and more. We currently have citizens and homes and roads and businesses flooding out.”

The town can afford to design and permit the first five projects with money from its Stormwater Management Fund, staff said. The fund is supported by property owner-paid fees – currently $26.15 for every 1,000 square feet of impervious surfaces, such as driveways and roofs.

Another $5.9 million in voter-approved bonds could finance the construction, which would be repaid from the Stormwater Management Fund. Homeowners could pay an extra $23.60 a year for the debt, staff said.

The roughly $30 million plan identified a bigger stormwater storage area between the Village Plaza shops and Eastgate Crossing shopping center as the town’s biggest priority. The $1.1 million excavation project would allow the 5.5-acre floodplain to hold more water until it slowly drains downstream, said.

But David Klepser, development director for Ram Realty Services, asked the council to delay planning for the project, which could cause serious issues for Ram’s proposed apartment building at the corner of Elliott Road and Fordham Boulevard. They need more time to meet with the town and consultant, he said.

Town staff will continue working with Ram Realty to come up with a workable design, which could involve using some of the developer’s land for the storage area, Stancil said. The council also approved planning:

▪ Red Bud storage: $914,000 to expand an existing area on 2.2 acres between Red Bud and Chesley lanes

▪ Piney Mountain Road: $1.9 million to excavate soil from 5.5 acres and create a temporary stormwater storage area east of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard

▪ Booker Creek Road: $1.3 million to replace culverts at Honeysuckle Road and under six driveways that now contribute to flooding, and to stabilize the stream in some places

▪ Honeysuckle Road: $336,000 to replace a small, existing culvert

The town also is looking at whether Lake Ellen could provide more flood storage. It was not part of the study but became an option when an abandoned outlet pipe in the lake’s dam collapsed in early December.

Local officials monitored the pipe failure, which drained the lake, releasing water, fish and silt into Booker Creek. The lake could be added to the project list if appears to offer significant public benefits and if the Lake Ellen Homeowners Association agrees to work with the town, Stancil said.

Tammy Grubb: 919-829-8926, @TammyGrubb

  Comments