Last Thursday evening we held a very informative and well attended Town Hall meeting on Flood Mitigation. There were presentations from residents Eric Stein on dry floodproofing, and Gloria Nickerson on sewer problems and how to handle them from a resident’s experience. Eric Karch of the River Des Peres Watershed Coalition and Helen Fuller of U city in Bloom made a presentation on Rain Gardens, while Steve Roberts of MSD discussed disconnection of the gutters from the sewers system, and some of the issues, which residents in the floodplain are concerned. Richard Wilson, Director of Public Works and Parks was present to answer questions on dry floodproofing and a program which we have called the Neighborhood Improvement District (NID), but I made the presentation on how to pay for the dry floodproofing by establishing a NID. The idea was Mr. Wilson’s and he should have been the one to make the presentation, but the City Manager told me "City staff will not be doing any presentations or participating in any panel discussion since this is not a city sponsored meeting.”
After the flooding in September, I made arrangements for Mr. Eric Stein to talk with Mr. Wilson and Ms. Fuhler (the Public Works Project Manager who deals with the flood issues) about his successful attempts at keeping the water out of his basement though he lives on the banks of the River Des Peres and his property is subject to overland flooding. Together they put together a brochure on dry floodproofing for our residents, and Ms. Fuhler and the City produced another brochure on the floodplain - all with the approval of the City Manager. At that meeting it was decided that the best way to get the information out to the public was a meeting and I suggested that we could present another Town Hall meeting as I had done for the Roundabout. Additionally, Mr. Wilson first suggested that residents could form a Neighborhood Improvement District (NID) to help finance the improvements (view Neignborhood Services Programs brochure). It seemed like a very exciting idea, making the City a model for other cities in that we would be doing more than just waiting for grants and working toward and hoping for buyouts. The City would be doing something to help those who experience overland flooding or flooding due to overcharging of the sewer system on a regular basis. Quite frankly, showing some initiative in helping these residents puts the City in a very positive light.
According to Mr. Wilson, the City Manager also approved the use of the NID, so long as the residents would absorb the costs. This is not charity, since property owners would be covering the entire cost themselves; the City would be helping these homeowners to help themselves by professionally evaluating each home for possible improvements, bundling the improvements needed, bidding out the contract, selecting the contractor and overseeing the work. The City would pay for the project up front, and when completed the property owners would be billed for their share. Property owners could elect to pay the entire bill at once, or repay the City over a 10-year period that would be subject to an interest charge as is any loan or time-payment.
When all the brochures were finished we were ready to hold the Town Hall meeting, I respectfully requested the printing of the brochures, a meeting venue (both of which were supplied) and submitted my flyer to Mr. Walker for approval, which he subsequently corrected and then approved. He is the employee of the Council (and hence, I am one of his bosses), but I believe in working collaboratively, particularly when it benefits the residents of this city. I, also asked City Manager Walker if the City would mail notices to all who lived in the floodway/floodplain, and if we could post notice of the meeting on the City bulletin boards. He replied, "Since this is not a city sponsored meeting, we will not mail the flyer nor post the meeting on the bulletin boards.”
I wrote Mr. Walker back asking what a "city sponsored event was," noting that other events presented by the Sutter-Meyer House, U City in Bloom and Fair U City (to name just three independent organizations) had notices of their events posted on the bulletin boards, and asked how this event could become “city sponsored.” He never replied to me.
Notice had to go out to the very people who are victims of the flooding, so Mr. Stein and I went to work on a mailing, which we financed. We mailed the flyer to about 170 people in the floodway or floodplain, many of whom do not use the Internet and would not have known about this meeting. Additionally, U City in Bloom sent out an email blast, Mayor Welsch mentioned the meeting in her newsletter, Cindy Thierry posted the meeting on social media and others sent out email blasts.
The floods from the River Des Peres are the single most repetitive natural disaster we experience in University City. As many of your remember, two people died from from the flood of 2008. The lives and properties of these families are at risk every time the River Des Peres floods, and every time there is a major rain event these residents experience material loss and family stress. Each time these families clean up and rebuild their homes and lives with the hope that they will be able to move forward, and each year the river floods again because of the way the river has been previously engineered (see History of the River Des Peres), putting them in harm’s way. It is important that every city official work to solve this problem for the sake of the people of University City who give us their trust.
Why wouldn’t the City Manager support this meeting on flood mitigation? Why did he refuse to contact those who are in harm’s way so often and who might benefit from this information and the work of his staff? - or even post a notice of the meeting on the bulletin boards? Why did he prevent his staff from presenting their own work and ideas? He could have looked like a hero, but apparently his animus toward me prevented him from doing the right thing. More’s the pity - for all of us who call this city our home!
I am deeply grateful to all who helped to get out the word to help our neighbors and residents, to all who shared their expertise and experience, and who helped to make this a successful step toward addressing the problems of the flooding. We have so many talented and generous people in University City. As a result of this meeting we are forming a Citizen Task Force on Flooding, which I will sponsor. If anyone is interested, I invite you to contact me and join the Task Force. We have problems to solve!