Saturday, November 7, 2009

A kinder gentler mudpit?

Update: The City's latest proposal originally featured an earthen dam, but we are now informed that the dam would be made of textured concrete. We have corrected that info below.

Update #2: The Memphis Flyer reported on this topic on November 26.

Earlier this year, we worked with Park Friends Inc. and other Midtown groups to organize a citizen coalition to Save the Greensward from being turned into a stormwater detention pond by City of Memphis engineers.

City engineers had proposed digging an overflow channel for Lick Creek that would empty into a large pit in the middle of the Greensward. They said this was necessary to reduce flooding in Belleair Circle and the Memphis Zoo. The depth of the Greensward Mudpit would have ranged from 10 to 18 feet below the existing grade, like so:

Click to biggify.

[Note: This map is actually the second version of the "Lick Creek Reroute" plan. City engineers originally intended to dig up three acres of the Old Forest near Poplar Avenue for their detention basin. After the Teton Trek debacle, they figured another clearcut would be unpopular so they changed the location... and quickly discovered that the Greensward is also a much-beloved part of Overton Park.]

Due to the public outcry against this plan, the City's engineering staff officially rejected the Greensward Mudpit in June and said they would examine other options. They drew up a plan that involved digging up several holes of the Overton Park Golf Course, but decided that would be "too disruptive" to the park.

This brings us to the fourth and most current version of the City's plan:
Click to biggify.

This proposal does not require a pit in the Greensward. Instead, it requires an 8-foot-high textured-concrete dam along the north side of the Greensward that would back up water into the park whenever Lick Creek overflows its banks. This plan would also enlarge the undersized culverts beneath Poplar Avenue and possibly create a small detention basin at the seventh hole of the golf course.

After all this time, and all the money spent on planning, City engineers have still not provided the public with hard facts to justify the need for this project. They estimate it will cost $4 million to build, but they haven't bothered to explain why it's necessary in the first place.

For example, how many Belleair Circle homes have been flooded by Lick Creek? How often does the Memphis Zoo experience flood damage, and where does this occur? How much does flood damage cost the Zoo and Belleair Circle homeowners each year? None of these questions have been answered.

In addition, City engineers have not provided any facts to support their claim that sacrificing a portion of Overton Park is the only possible way to reduce flooding in the upper Lick Creek watershed. Why is our park the only target on the radar? Is it just because the land is publicly owned and can be used by the City for free?

City engineers told us that in a 100-year flood (a flood that has a 1-in-100 chance of happening in any given year) the existing flood level at the Rainbow Lake playground would be three feet higher if their dam is built. From our perspective this looks like a problem, not a solution.

Aside from the obvious safety hazards and damage to Overton Park, it's important to keep in mind that urban stormwater is not clean water. It contains a wide range of pollutants such as animal feces, oil and antifreeze from streets and parking lots, lawn chemicals, and silt from poorly managed construction sites. A major fish kill on Lick Creek this summer was caused by raw sewage pouring from a malfunctioning sewer line a half-mile upstream from Overton Park.

Is it okay to use Overton Park for stormwater storage? Does it make sense to treat heavily-used parkland as if it's vacant land? Is it good civic policy to sacrifice public amenities to private interests? What is the true value of Overton Park to our community? These questions should be taken seriously by City officials.

Why not focus on slowing or stopping stormwater runoff before it even gets to Lick Creek? Park Friends Inc's Martha Kelly recently (and wisely) pointed out that the Overton Square redevelopment offers a perfect opportunity to do just that.

Overton Square is five acres of asphalt, concrete and rooftops. Nearly all of the rain that falls on those five acres flows straight into Lick Creek. City officials could reverse that situation by requiring the new development to manage all of its stormwater on-site. This is just one example of the many proactive steps that City officials could take to reduce flooding in the Lick Creek watershed, if they chose. Instead they often choose to burden citizens with the hidden costs of new development.

For example, City engineering staff told us they did not require the Memphis Zoo to do any stormwater detention for the Teton Trek exhibit, even though the original exhibit plan included underground detention tanks. Why? Because "the mathematical model" said there would be no increase in flooding downstream.

When you convert an old growth forest (near-zero stormwater runoff) to a paved and roofed zoo exhibit (near-100% stormwater runoff) you need only consult your common sense to know that the extra water will increase flooding downstream. Sure, a single new development that lacks stormwater detention may not change things much. But five acres here, four acres there -- it adds up fast in a dense urban environment.

It works the other way too. Even acts as simple as strategic tree planting and landscaping are proven to drastically reduce stormwater runoff and improve water quality -- and that also adds up fast.

We don't need a mudpit in Overton Park. We don't need contaminated stormwater backing up into our old growth forest, our playground, and our Greensward. We need our civic leaders to recognize that we can (and should) improve our built environment without destroying the natural resources that birthed our city and nourish our spirits.


Stacey Greenberg said...

Here! Here! Well said, Naomi.

Unknown said...

I agree! Thank you for bringing this info to the public!

Unknown said...

YOU are the direct cause of "all this money spent on planning". Your private interest is the interest that is being put forth here; the city owes the residents of Belleaire the responsibility of managing the stormwater routed through their property, just as they owe it to any Memphis neighborhood. Your "common sense", with it's know-nothing mis-understandings of issues you only have a casual exposure to, is costing the Memphis taxpayers thousands of dollars. The Greensward was a progressive "green" project and would have better managed the stormwater than any other solution yet to be proposed. It was a redevelopment of developed land. By quashing the Greensward Project, you maintained the mudpit that will exist with or without the modifications of earthen berms, widened choke points or enlarged culverts. The city is seeking to preserving the private property of the nearby residents -something it owes its taxpayers, much more than anything it owes YOU.

Naomi Van Tol said...

Thanks for sharing your opinion, Sam. I don't believe we've met?

We really do want to know if homes are actually flooding in Belleair. Are they? We asked the City engineers that question when this project first became public nine months ago. It should be easy to answer, but apparently not.

We can't take the credit for quashing your preferred plan. Our citizen coalition included the Evergreen Historic District Association, Memphis College of Art, Memphis Heritage, the Memphis Ultimate Disc Association, Park Friends Inc., and the Vollentine-Evergreen Neighborhood Association.

None of these groups want Belleair (or any other neighborhoods) to have flooding problems. These groups came together because they wanted the City to explore solutions that will not hurt the integrity of Overton Park.

City engineers have dismissed all of the alternative ideas that our coalition members have offered, without even trying to justify why they think these ideas are not feasible.

This latest plan seems more reasonable -- compared to an 18-foot-deep pit, anyway -- but it still assumes that Overton Park is vacant land that has no intrinsic value. We will have to disagree with you on that.

The Greensward was a key feature of George Kessler's original design for Overton Park; it has been public open space for 108 years. It has tremendous civic value and should be treated with the respect it deserves.

Unknown said...

Kessler may have had a vision, but I don't have a "preferred" plan. The latest plan does not, as you say, assume "that Overton Park is vacant land that has no intrinsic value" and neither do I (fuck you) think that Overton Park is without value (and needs to be tainted, perverted, exploited, etc.) If anything, this plan is an attempt to cater to you (and possibly, your coalition) by keeping the Greensward as you want it, flooding everytime it rains for 2 or 3 days. There are problems trying to be solved -nobody wants to garbage-up the park just for the hell of it. If you are saying that the city should exercise eminent domain, and seize private property, go ahead, shout that from the rooftops!

Your goal seems noble enough until one gets a whiff of the mis-information, half-truth and ignorance you spread in the name of "preserving Overton Park". The Greensward Project was a topographic change but, lo, people had been informed, by your group, that the city planned to build a concrete bowl in Overton Park. None of them were told the bowl would be landscaped, drain quicker than the existing mudpit and wouldn't harbor any greater amount of chemicals (if not less) than already present in the park. The disinformation, scare tactics and dissemblance taint the whole mission.

No, we haven't met, but I've been familiar with your campaign for awhile.

Naomi Van Tol said...

CPOP has never said (or even implied) that "the city planned to build a concrete bowl in Overton Park" and neither has our coalition.

If you were familiar with our campaign, you would know that our description of the City's original proposal specifically stated that the basin would be planted in grass.

Thomas said...

I have to agree with Sam - minus the crassness. I started following this blog because the intentions seemed noble and who wouldn't want to help save a 10,000 year old forest? There has been an awful lot of misinformation, bullying, unwillingness to cooperate and general nastiness. The mission is more than tainted - I think it's become completely ineffective.


Unknown said...

Strangely, I've had to correct the perception of the Greensward Detention Basin of two different otherwise reasonable and intelligent people, who do not know each other and had received no information about it save your groups emails and attendance at your meetings. Both beleived it to be a "bare concrete bowl". I had to point to local examples, such as the soccer fields at PDS and CBU, to show that such earthenwork structures are regularly used for outdoor athletic activities with no detriment to the quality of the field nor the character of the activity.

Anonymous said...

Naomi, et. al,

I have a home that has been flooded by the overflow from Lick Creek. Yes, I am only one household, so I guess my grief falls on silent ears. VECA, my neighborhood association, does not care that my home floods, the city engineers cannot address the issue because my neighborhood association and well meaning citizens have tied their hands. However, my home continues to be ravaged by water from creek flooding. What has been called a 100-year flood by some has indeed flooded my house numerous times and caused thousands of dollars of damage, not to mention the emotional toll it has taken on our family and marriage. Well, just thought I would raise my one little voice again. I'm moving from my house next month. It will probably never sell, and how can we rent it? We will probably file for divorce later next year, but that's not the city's problem or all the well meaning citizens who only want what is best for Lick Creek. I wish I did have voice, but I can only post on some forgotten little blog, and will probably not even receive response.

Naomi Van Tol said...

Sorry to hear about your situation, Leslie. Please keep in mind that stormwater detention in Overton Park would do nothing to reduce flooding in VECA, according to the City's engineering staff.

Earlier this year we were told by Hugh Teaford that the City also hopes to create stormwater detention in the large field bordered by Evergreen Presbyterian and Snowden School, by building an engineered playing field (as they did at CBU and Second Presbyterian).

That project would reduce flooding in VECA. As far as we know, this idea is not being opposed by any citizens or by your neighborhood association.

Hugh Teaford should be able to tell you the current status of that project, and whether it will help your situation or not. Best of luck to you.

Unknown said...

"stormwater detention in Overton Park would do nothing to reduce flooding in VECA"

True except for the fact that the planned stormwater detention basin by Evergreen Presbyterian and Snowden would not be nearly as effective without some sort of detention basin/other stormwater management upstream. It's all part of the same system and something has to be done in conjunction with the VE area detention basin...

Naomi Van Tol said...

Yes, it is logical that upstream detention is the key to reducing downstream flooding. That's why it's so puzzling that City engineering staff decided to remove stormwater detention tanks from the construction plan for Teton Trek last year.

And why it's puzzling that City engineering staff does not think stormwater detention at the Overton Square redevelopment is an important issue. If five acres worth of direct runoff were slowed or eliminated, surely it would reduce flood levels downstream? When this idea comes up in meetings, City engineering staff has merely said that it is not feasible.

Finally, City engineering staff has said (in public, several times) that any detention at Overton Park would "do nothing" to reduce flooding in VECA. That's a quote. Whether it makes sense or not, this is what we are being told.

Anonymous said...

Again,the needs of the many (and powerful) outweigh the needs of the few (and not so powerful).

I'm sending a link to some photos of this year's "100-year" flooding...

Last year's "100-year" flood caused more than $3000 worth of damage to the inside of our home and countless amount of emotional damage. I wish you busy-bodies had real jobs and could let the city address this issue! The next flood that comes into our house will prompt legal action...