- The Washington Times - Monday, September 3, 2012

A D.C. lawmaker is calling on the city to establish an emergency relief fund for residents of the Bloomingdale neighborhood reeling from flood damage after fierce rains backed up their outdated sewer once again during the Labor Day weekend.

Council member Kenyan McDuffie, Ward 5 Democrat, said water rushed under doors and stranded motorists on Rhode Island Avenue Northwest while raw sewage bubbled up through toilets and drains in homes, a nightmarish and all-too-frequent occurrence for his constituents this summer.

“No one should have to live like that,” he said.

Standing water along Rhode Island Avenue reached the tops of cars’ wheels on Sunday evening and Metro had to suspend service on its Green and Yellow lines between Georgia Avenue-Petworth and Mount Vernon Square stations because of flooding near the Shaw-Howard University station. At about 9 p.m., the Metropolitan Police Department assisted with temporary road closures and helped stranded motorists along Rhode Island Avenue and North Capitol Street, spokeswoman Gwendolyn Crump said.

Mr. McDuffie said he is calling on all relevant agencies, particularly the D.C. Water and Sewer Authority and the D.C. Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency, to bring forward all of their resources and set aside funding for immediate relief to residents in the affected areas. He also said the city should request financial assistance from the federal government, even though it is not a citywide problem.

“You’ve got residents who have legitimate flood-damage claims,” he said. “They don’t need [help] next week, next month — they need it now.”

Bloomingdale is an increasingly popular neighborhood south of McMillan Reservoir and north of Florida Avenue. It abuts North Capitol Street on its eastern edge and is bisected by Rhode Island Avenue, a main corridor that was plagued by rushing water and stranded vehicles during bouts of rainfall in late July.

Mr. McDuffie called for an “all-hands-on-deck” effort to stem the flooding after the July storms, prompting Mayor Vincent C. Gray to assemble a task force to study the problem and report its findings by Dec. 31.
But now the lawmaker is ramping up his rhetoric.

On Monday he called for a new study by independent engineers to see what the city and residents can do in the short term before they are hit by flooding once more. Some residents spent thousands of dollars to install back-flow preventers in their homes — plumbing devices that keep sewage from backing up during storms — only to experience flooding again Sunday night, he said.

WASA’s General Manager George Hawkins said flooding can occur in numerous ways. His own agency is set to release its findings on the neighborhood’s engineering challenges in the coming week, although he is fine with an independent review.

He said crews cleaned storm water drains on Friday in anticipation of the remnants from Hurricane Isaac coming over the weekend. But once again, the area was hit by “an enormous amount of rain in a small amount of time.”

“This is absolutely a terrible outcome, and we’re doing everything we can to try and solve [the problem],” he said.

The sewer system that serves the neighborhood was installed in the late 19th century as a combined sewer, in which wastewater from homes and stormwater flows into the same pipe, according to WASA. Mr. Hawkins said Monday the pipe along Florida Avenue is 9 feet in diameter and “just not big enough to hold this kind of flow.”

The system should be remedied as part of the Clean Rivers Project, “a system of tunnels, sewers and other diversion structures to control and capture overflow throughout the city,” according to WASA. But the multistage project will not be completed until 2025.

“You’ve got a legitimate project in the works,” Mr. McDuffie said. “But residents can’t wait 13 years.”
Mr. Gray’s spokesman, Pedro Ribeiro, said Monday tha the would have to confer with the mayor, who is in Charlotte, N.C., for the Democratic National Convention, before commenting on a possible relief fund for Bloomingdale residents.

Mr. McDuffie took office in May after a special election to replace former council member Harry Thomas Jr., who resigned in January and pleaded guilty to stealing more than $350,000 in public funds intended for youth sports programs.

The new lawmaker has been vocal about flooding in Bloomingdale and decried the mayor’s plans to build a car barn for the District’s new streetcar system in his ward near Spingarn High School. Mr. McDuffie noted the city is ready to shell out millions for the barn, but the flooding issue is “well-documented” and leaves people in fear of leaving their homes.

“It’s occurring too frequently,” he said. “People are on pins and needles.”

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