Drainage issues persist for Suffolk neighborhood downstream from new development

10 On Your Side

The city is looking to use American Rescue Plan funds for a fix.

SUFFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — Torrential rains and flooding waters are familiar weather events that make life a bit more difficult in one Suffolk neighborhood.

The neighborhood is located on Godwin Boulevard at Pembroke Avenue in the Chuckatuck borough.

Following complaints of flooding, the city offered to dig a 230-yard ditch to help solve flooding issues, but neighbors call it inadequate and not doing the job.

The city has also approved a major housing community, which neighbors claim is sending even more stormwater into their neighborhood.

Front and center in this community and situated square off Godwin Boulevard is a home that has a huge American flag out front.

Passersby know they’re at Wesley Lane’s home when they see the flag. He’s a former U.S. Marine and worked for Newport News Shipbuilding for more than 40 years.

“And these homes, we paid a lot of money for,” he told 10 On Your Side while standing in Lane’s yard.

Lane has a nice life, is proud to show off his swimming pool, and lots of lawn equipment including two riding lawn mowers.

Everything’s great in his life — except for that 230-yard ditch that literally surrounds his house.

“We didn’t use to have this trouble until the new development came in,” Lane said with a smile.

That’s another thing about Lane: he is always smiling, and good natured. He talks up a storm as he’s talking about the other storm that has changed his quality of life.

That development that came in is massive new construction at nearby Village Pointe. You can stand up the road from Lane’s home and look to the left and see the 129-home Village Pointe in the distance, and then look to the right and you can see Lane’s home and all the others sitting below Village Pointe.

Village Pointe has a holding pond for stormwater, and as rain and stormwater enter the pond, it gets deeper. When the cleaner water at the top reaches the drainage pipe the water drains and begins the approximately 300-yard journey through the pipe to the land below.

The water races down the hill in the pipe toward Godwin Boulevard, leaves the pipe at the bottom, travels across rocks into another pipe running under Godwin Boulevard, and empties in — you guessed it — Lane’s yard, and the yard of Marvin Williams.

It is not lost on Lane that the “right” side of the road as he calls it has the underground pipes, but when it gets to his side, it just spills out and goes where it wants,

“Yeah, they didn’t do underground drainage on our side,” he said.

No, Suffolk did nothing on Lane’s side until his neighbor complained.

The neighbor is Marvin Williams and he preferred not to comment for this story. He did say that he complained to the city, and at first, the city told him it was not their responsibility to handle the runoff water once it reaches his property. Marvin has numerous pictures showing the few feet of deep water around his house.

Lane told us it’s become a joint effort.

“My neighbors and I are down here fighting, trying to get in and out of our yards and water is running across the driveway,” he said.

The city eventually agreed to construct a ditch in late 2019 that measures about 230 yards and is designed to take water and channel it to other ditches along Pembroke Lane. The ditch is considered by residents as inadequate.

The ditch is technically on Williams’ property and he gave the city an easement to come in, dig the ditch with a promise they would maintain it. What that level of maintenance consists of is not entirely understood by Williams, and he wishes he had something more in writing. The ditch, however, might as well be in Lane’s yard as it borders the two properties.

The ditch runs from where the outflow comes from the pipes that run under Godwin Boulevard and goes over to Pembroke Avenue. There, we found Pheanie Chapman — and she’s not happy either.

“We have complained to them, and they would not clean the ditches out, and they would come down here when water is all in the road and put up a sign that reads ‘High Water,’” she said.

At a June 28 town hall meeting, Chapman told Suffolk officials to wake up.

“You all act like you don’t care anything about us, but a new development comes in and you do everything you can for them,” she said.

10 On Your Side went to Suffolk City Manager Albert Moor about the new development feeding into a poor drainage area.

“We want to try to address our issues and try to take care of theirs,” he said.

It is clear the flooding into ditches, especially down Pembroke Lane, is destroying the infrastructure of the road. In several areas, the road is collapsing on the sides near the ditches. It is clear if this continues, the mailboxes will have to be moved to the other side of the road.

“The road is deteriorating, and they don’t care nothing about our property,” Chapman told 10 On Your Side while outside her home.

We pointed that out to Moor that the road is collapsing.

“And, of course, we are going to be addressing any infrastructure issues we have,” he said. Moor is an engineer and well qualified to understand the issues more than other city managers who are not engineers.

Moor pointed out the decisions on how to solve the road issue aren’t easy.

“We don’t just want to move one problem from here, and put it on the next home … downstream,” he said.

However, neighbors claim that’s exactly what Suffolk has done to them with the new development. 10 On Your Side pointed out to Moor that the disgruntled neighbors are saying Suffolk is moving the problem downstream to them from the stormwater drainage at the Village Pointe development.

“Well, yeah, from this point on, but what we have is going back to the type of rainfall event … it appears there is more runoff that is occurring, and we are hearing it louder, obviously,” he said.

However, during our investigation, we found the new 230-yard ditch fills with stormwater runoff even when it’s not raining.

Moor promised to help solve the drainage and runoff issue, pledging Suffolk will spend millions from the new American Rescue Plan Act to do it. The details are developing, but Moor told us it opens everything up for possible solutions.

“The solutions may not be curbing and gutters, it may be improving ditch lines, it may be piping it, and may not be piping. Let’s get to the correct solution,” Moor said.

10 On Your Side asked whether putting in pipes to carry the water is the solution.

“We may need to acquire easements. We may need to acquire other properties and to be able to do the work that we may need to do to get a long-term solution. We may not have full right of way to do a large improvement, so items like that take time,” Moor added.

We asked whether Moor would reach out if we gave him the phone numbers of the property owners Wesley Lane and Marvin Williams.

“I will be glad to talk to them, along with the Public Works director,” he said.

On July 27, the City of Suffolk said the city manager and interim director of Public Works met with Williams on July 22 to review and evaluate the existing ditch and Williams’ “specific drainage concerns.” They also spoke with Lane.

“It was agreed that the City would schedule a contractor to perform maintenance of the ditch as it related to removal of silt which has accumulated in the ditch since it was originally installed,” the city wrote in an email.

Maintenance on the ditches along Pembroke Lane that have experienced erosion is also now being scheduled.

Meanwhile, residents like Chapman remain skeptical. We asked her if she has complained.

“Complain? What good is it? Yes, we have. They say ‘We’ve been over there. We’re coming out. We’re investigating. We are going to do this,’ and then they don’t do jack,” Chapman said.

However, Moor is optimistic that with the new American Rescue Plan Act federal funding, he will be able to pleasantly surprise residents like Chapman.

The city has also met with residents in the Oakland and Pughsville areas about other drainage concerns in other parts of the city. They previously inserted $3.7 million into the city’s 10-year capital improvement plan for drainage improvements in Pughsville.

“On June 28th, City staff held a community meeting at the Oakland Elementary School to discuss the resident’s drainage concerns. At that meeting, we discussed short term initiatives related to drainage maintenance, but also potential mid-term objectives related to future federal funding,” the city wrote in an email.

On July 21, City Council adopted an ordinance allocated $30 million in funding from the American Rescue Plan Act. $2 million of that was allocated for drainage improvements in Pughsville, to be added to the $3.7 million previously allocated. In Oakland, another $2 million was allocated for water distribution system upgrades, $6 million for extending sanitary sewer service if a petition passes, and $6 million for stormwater drainage improvements, the city said.

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