By Bobby Bordelon
The day after June flash flooding in Alderson, a group of neighbors, town workers, and volunteers fought to redirect water away from a home at the bottom of Flat Mountain Road. Monroe Street was partially collapsing after water poured over it and rocks from a nearby construction site were dumped into several homes and yards along with the water.
While flooding in Alderson often comes up from the river, the June event saw water running off of the mountains instead. One major reason for this is the bottlenecking of water flow through the many creeks coming off of the mountains. Greater Greenbrier Long Term Recovery Director Kayla McCoy stood next to one such destroyed culvert several weeks after the flooding; pointing out how critical it’s replacement is to preventing future flooding.
“This is one of three households on [this road] that need a bridge versus a culvert,” explained McCoy. “This is pretty much to blame for all the flooding downtown.”
After bottlenecking through several culverts, the water came down Flat Mountain, crashed through the rock pile at the intersection of Flat Mountain Road and Monroe Street, and hit several homes with a rush of water, rocks, and mud. The wave of water came partly as a result of the repeated damming and releasing of water as it passed through and clogged culverts.
“Culverts, in times of flooding, effectively act as a jam,” McCoy explained. “The creek bed is way wider [than the culvert], so when the creek bed is full of water, it cannot go through the culvert with the same speed as it’s coming down the creek.”
Unable to flow, the pressure builds until something gives.
“You bottleneck and you flood up and over [the entire culvert.],” McCoy said. “Sometimes they collapse. Sometimes they wash out completely.
The best way to avoid flooding bottlenecks around culverts is to not replace them once they’re destroyed, but instead put in a bridge. This is easier said than done.
“I need $25,000 to put a bridge right here,” McCoy said, looking down at the busted culvert. “Only $25,000.”
Bridges can vary widely in price, with some that support concrete trucks and other construction materials costing around $50,000. McCoy estimated just the one culvert would run approximately $25,000.
“It’s all situational,” McCoy said. “With this one, it’s going to have to start [yards away from the creek] and then they have specifications. It has to be so far. They will measure how far the bridge has to be not off of the water but off of the rock at the bottom of the creek. Then they determine how long the bridge has to be for that elevation. … It needs an incline, they need to have enough distance to have that incline, to level at the top, and then incline on the other side. The length of the bridge is determined by the height of the bridge and then that’s how they calculate the cost of the bridge.”
One way this type of project is funded in many disasters in federal dollars, but this event did not incur enough damage to meet the federal $2.8 million threshold for the Federal Emergency Management Agency to pump funds into the town. However, even if Alderson had met this threshold, it would not help in every case.
“One guy lives back there,” McCoy said. “Even if we had a federal disaster declaration and even if FEMA was here, the fact that it’s one house means FEMA wouldn’t touch this. [The bridge] has to serve at least two.”
Those looking to help can donate funds by visiting ggltrc.org, going to facebook.com/GGLTRC and clicking the fundraiser, or by mailing checks to GGLTRC, 945 Washington Street W, Ste 5, Lewisburg, WV, 24901.
“I’ll leave this to neighbors, friends, and anyone who sees the post, if you can make any size donation to help those affected, make it to The Greater Greenbrier Long-Term Recovery Committee,” Mayor Travis Copenhaver wrote on the town’s Facebook page. “Unlike National response agencies, your dollar goes where it’s needed. … The only hope that I can say there is the Greater Greenbrier Long-Term Recovery Committee. Kayla and her team are amazing. They are here for us. As you see their efforts for fundraising, have no doubt that it is going directly to where it is vitally needed.”
For more on the Greater Greenbrier flood recovery efforts, check out the Mountain Messenger’s previous coverage: