Residents call on Suffolk and Chesapeake to better handle stormwater runoff

10 On Your Side

CHESAPEAKE, Va. (WAVY) — Over the last month, 10 On Your Side has been investigating and reporting on stormwater drainage dilemmas in Suffolk. Those issues also flow into the Pughsville neighborhood of Chesapeake.

Suffolk resident Alfonsa Cargill sums it up a certain way.

“We have ditches that have grown up. We have ditches that are totally blocked with nothing flowing through them,” Cargill said.  

We’ve reported on Roosevelt Jones’ home in the Oakland neighborhood of Suffolk. He’s been there for years, but developers built homes next to his property at a higher level. So, all the stormwater flows from the newer homes onto his property.

In our reporting, we’ve shown a video of stormwater flooding Lyman Elliott’s yard in Pughsville. He said if it rains hard for an hour, his yard gets swamped. 

Pamela Brandy, who lives in the Pughsville section of Chesapeake, shot a video of Elliott’s flooded yard, which has become a natural stormwater runoff retention pond during heavy rains.,  

“It’s important because they [Suffolk and Chesapeake] are not doing what they promised to do all along and that is to provide funds to take care of our community, and it’s not being taken care of,” Brandy said.

To that, Chesapeake’s Public Works DirectorEarl Sorey says “We have heard them loud and clear.” 

“We have a number of efforts underway to address that,” he said.

10 On Your Side met Sorey at the John Street outfall improvement project in the Pughsville section of Chesapeake.   

The cost of the project is $890,000, which will bring in bigger pipes to move more water out of neighborhoods downstream to natural wetlands.

“This will allow water to get out more efficiently,” Sorey added.

He describes the stormwater outfall project this way: “We want to clean out the accumulated sediment within the boxed culverts. They are digging down and moving material that is under three feet of water, and that is allowing water to get out and flow more efficiently… and over time, this will improve drainage in this area.”

Sorey also adds that other significant work was done.

“This past winter, we did a lot of maintenance activities on the drainage ditches within the neighborhood making sure they are adequately sloped,” Sorey said. 

That is contrary to the perspective of a group of Suffolk and Chesapeake residents, who say they have not provided the proper drainage and sidewalks.

In July, 10 On Your Side met with the residents who live in older Chesapeake and Suffolk neighborhoods. They said they feel ignored.

“What they had done is allowed builders to build on top of homes and build homes in the community where they are flooding out the older residents,” Brandy said.

That’s what has happened to Roosevelt Jones’s property in Suffolk. 

“They should have made a better improvement from our engineers before they allowed all these houses to be built,” he said.

We asked Suffolk City Manager Albert Moor whether he thought the residents have a legitimate complaint. 

“There is a concern with drainage in the area,” he confirmed.

To Moor’s credit, he has spent time in these communities, and visited Jones’ property, and considers Oakland and Pughsville underserved communities in need of help.

“Look, actions always mean more than what you say,” he told us. 10 On Your Side pointed out they want more action from Suffolk.    

“And we are working there, and we are not trying to give lip service, and we want to work with the residents. We want to bring them a higher quality of life — period,” Moor said.

We also walked the neighborhood with Roosevelt Jones. He looked down his street and started speaking.

“You look all the way down the street.  Here, I’ve been trying to get them to come and clean these ditches out,” he said.

We walked Jones’ neighborhood to see firsthand what the issues are, even when it’s not raining. He pointed to a clogged drain with stormwater in it.

“How is water going to go through here because the water is stopped up? … Look in this one over here. I’ve been trying to tell the city all the water is standing. It is not going anywhere because they won’t come clean the ditches out,” he said.

We met Wayne White, who lives in the Chesapeake part of Pughsville. He got tired of waiting for the city to put in drainage pipes, so he put in his own.

“When my daughter was 3 or 4 years old when we moved here, she walked out of the house, walked right into the ditch. I said it wasn’t going to happen anymore, so I covered up the ditches … at my own cost,” he said.

The neighbors are supported by city activist Kelly Hengler, who documents flooding issues on video and pictures. She was at the first meeting we had in July.

“The reasons we are all here is all the citizens realized vis-a-vis all the civic leagues that, individually, they weren’t being heard… So we banded together,” she said.

For the record, side by side, Suffolk seems to be doing more addressing stormwater issues in underserved neighborhoods: 

Suffolk is spending $5.7 million using $2 million from the American Rescue Plan Act.

Chesapeake is spending $890,000 on the John Street Project plus funds from normal operating budget expenditures which could not be provided to us. There is no budget money from the American Rescue Plan. 

Sorey also gave some news that will not be well received from the residents we spoke to.

“As far as piping, ditches and curbs and gutters, that is not included in our scope of work… It is not included in any type, not at this time,” he said.

We asked whether it should be included.

“It would compete with other city-wide priorities,” Sorey said. 

The residents insist they will continue the fight for more efficient flowing ditches. 

“I am going to take this fight until either Jesus calls me home first, or he comes back first. I don’t care. It doesn’t matter to me I’m going to be here,” Brandy said.

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