Council at odds over neighborhood access

THE INTERSECTION of 6th Ave. and 9th St. N.W. would be reconstructed and additional pipe placed beneath the street to improve storm water flow during heavy rain events if the city council approves the recommendation of its consulting engineer. A second phase of the project calls for the elevation of the street to be increased approximately three feet in order for residents of flood-prone northwest Cairo neighborhoods to have access in and out of their neighborhood. Another alternative to providi

Two frustrated members of the Cairo city council vented Monday night after they pushed, but failed 3-2 along racial lines, to order construction of a new city street providing continuous access regardless of weather conditions for residents of the northwest neighborhood known commonly as the “Hotbed.”
Councilmen Lannis Thornton and Ernest Cloud voted to construct a new street which would connect 9th St. N.W. with 11th Ave. N.W. by running along side the new Syrup Mill Creek subdivision and Forest Lawn Cemetery. Without the new road both men say that heavy rains cut off access to the neighborhood by public safety personnel.
The vote Monday night followed a presentation by consulting engineer Bryant King, who represents Dyer, Riddle, Mills and Precourt, Inc. (DRMP) of Tallahassee.
King presented five alternatives and the costs of each to the council for its consideration. The most feasible and cost effective was the option supported by Thornton and Cloud as well as a plan to install additional pipe underneath 6th Ave. N.W. and potentially raising the street 2.7 feet, which according to the engineer would make the neighborhood accessible through the 100-year flood.
And while the increased pipe and higher street elevation solves the problem with access to the neighborhood, the engineer made it clear that it would not alleviate flooding issues in the area.
“The installation of additional pipe at 6th Ave. will be a part of the storm water master plan, so regardless of which alternative you select, that work will need to be done,” King said.
Mayor Pro Tem James H. (Jimmy) Douglas and Councilmen Bobby Gwaltney and Kermit Gilliard favored the reconstruction of 6th Ave. N.W. since the additional pipe proposed by the engineer would be included in the overall storm water master plan being developed for the city by DRMP. The plan, when completed early next year will provide a roadmap for the city in regards to necessary improvements to the storm water drainage system throughout the city that need to be made in order to combat flooding issues within the city.
Engineer King estimates the cost of construction of the new street connecting 9th St. and 11th Ave. N.W would be $144,300. Cost of the reconstruction of 6th Ave. with additional and larger capacity pipe would be $230,024 and added to that would be $114,655 to raise the elevation of the street.
The engineer predicts that with just the additional pipe capacity the street would remain open through a 25 year flood stage, but in order to insure access the street elevation needs to be increased.
Councilman Thornton took issue with the engineer and said additional pipe would only allow the water to flow quicker to the railroad, which acts like a dam during heavy rains and backs up into the neighborhood causing flooding and cutting off access to the neighborhood.
“Unless you’ve been there and see what happens you don’t know what I’m talking about, Councilman Thornton said.
He said that the issue of access has been debated ever since he was elected four years ago and for many years prior to his election. “Every time it comes up it gets kicked down,” he said.
“I’ve been there 57 years and I’ve seen it all. I don’t want to see emergency personnel having to come in by boat to get somebody and bring them out when the ambulance or fire truck can get in there,” Thornton added.
Councilman Cloud also strongly voiced his frustration with his fellow councilman in voting down the new street option.
“Nothing ever happens when it pertains to black people. When it comes to black people nothing get done. Nothing!” Cloud said
City Manager Chris Addleton reminded all of the councilmen that this was the first time an engineering study of the city’s storm water drainage issues had been initiated.
“We are making progress. I sympathize with Councilman Thornton and Councilman Cloud. I understand their frustrations, but we are going to address the situation,” Addleton said.
Mayor Richard VanLandingham encouraged city leaders to look at the issue as being part of a short-term and long-term solution. He said that making permanent access available to the residents was a short-term project, but that addressing the flooding of the neighborhood was part of a long-term solution.
Mayor Pro Tem Douglas reminded the council that even if the new street were to be built the additional pipe would be needed at 6th Ave. as part of the solution to drainage issues downstream.
Douglas suggested the council instruct the city manager and engineer to begin the design work on both the construction of the new city street and the reconstruction of 6th Ave. and have it ready for council review in January.
“Nothing could be done in the next several weeks with the holidays anyway” Douglas said.
Councilman Cloud opposed any further delay, noting, “we’re already approaching the rainy season and we’ll be in the same shape again.”
With the storm water master plan nearly complete the mayor pushed for the council to look at the overall picture and to act in the best interests of all of the city.
“This is an issue that has been discussed for too long, but we are going to do something about it whether it is building the new road or improving the drainage at 6th Ave. We just need to make sure the route we take is the best for both the short and long-term benefit of the city,” Mayor VanLandingham said.
As for the relief from flooding in northwest Cairo the mayor said another option to be considered would be the purchase of the flood-prone properties in order to get residents out of flood zones where housing should never have been permitted.
Engineer King said the storm water master plan should be completed next month.

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