The heavy rains flooding parts of East Tennessee this week bring back a lot of bad memories for people who live near First Creek in Knoxville. Almost a year after the city finished a major project to prevent flooding, one resident has noticed the job is not actually done.
High Water History
Heavy floods plagued North Knoxville neighborhoods along the creek for decades. The main culprit was a horseshoe bend in First Creek that crisscrossed beneath Broadway Street. The flowing water met the sharp curve and multiple bottlenecks at narrow passages beneath the street. The subsequent back-ups routinely flooded homes and businesses.
In 2009 the city undertook a nearly $3 million flood-control project that broadened bridges and built a 40-foot-wide overflow area to re-route rising waters along Broadway. The project proved difficult with contractor changes and other delays. The city cut the ribbon on the finished product and celebrated its completion in August 2011.
North Knoxville resident Tony Scally believed the horse-shoe bottleneck that routinely raised water into his home upstream was finally fixed. Yet, problems with flood waters from the creek persisted.
"We have had two major floods in the last year that have put water into everybody's basement in our area," said Scally.
Scally said he noticed a large berm remaining between the new widened overflow area and the creek along Broadway Street.
"When they completed this they did not take the berm out, which was the whole idea to begin with. When they presented this plan to us, that [berm removal] was the major part of the plans. You've got this 40 foot wide overflow area, but the opening to it from the creek is just a few feet wide because most of it is taken up by the berm. That makes it where most of the water flows beneath the bridge like it did before instead of going into the new spillway," said Scally.
Knoxville engineers said the berm has not been removed yet because the city ran into issues with easements and obtaining that particular piece of property. The issue was also complicated by an unexpected amount of bedrock, according to Knoxville Director of Engineering Jim Hagerman.
"Somewhere in the excavation process, there was the miscommunication about whether that portion should be removed. There were trees involved that some residents were unsure they wanted to lose, but now there are no objections to the plan," said Hagerman. "We revisited the issue this spring and decided it could be done, it should be done, and went back to the drawing board. It is something that will happen as soon as we can."
Hagerman said the city still has money in the original project's budget for the planned berm removal, so completing the excavation will not be an additional expense for taxpayers. He also said the risk of floods has already been drastically reduced by prior excavations.
"I don't want to minimize anyone's concerns because we recognized there are issues and problems with flooding," said Hagerman. "I will just say this final step in removing the berm is a fine-tuning improvement for the project instead of something that is critical for the overall success of the project."
Scally said when he brought the berm issue to the attention of the city a few months ago, he was told it would be removed by July 2012.
Hagerman said that timeline is not possible because the berm removal will require a bidding process. The city will request bids in January 2013 and construction will begin in the spring, according to Hagerman.
Whenever the berm is removed, Scally hopes it will finally provide full relief to upstream neighborhoods potentially bogged down with creek back-ups.
"If they get this complete it will be a great project. It will relieve us a lot."