Flood relief on way, for a fee

For Augustans who've forded flooded roads or their own yards and basements after recent record rainfalls, a city solution to the problem is well underway.

Last year, the Augusta Com­mission approved the first 25 steps of a 14-year plan to implement a new “stormwater fee” to fund maintenance and repair of the city's vast network of catch basins, ditches, ponds and pipes.

The engineering department is completing some of the initial inventory work, and on May 16 it issued a request for qualifications from engineering or consulting firms to catalog, map and analyze the system, including stormwater quality as required by federal laws.

City Engineering Director Abie Ladson, whose duties will soon include administering projects funded by the transportation sales tax, said only by assessing the entire stormwater system can drainage issues be properly addressed.

“You might see flooding on Broad Street,” for instance, “but the problem may be a half-mile upstream,” Ladson explained.

A May 30 request for qualifications seeks another engineering or consulting firm to develop a “stormwater utility program” based on the data collected, including developing a fee structure based on a property's square feet of impervious surface, and implementing billing, with a first bill sent to property owners in June 2014.

For a typical homeowner, the fee of $5 or $6 a month will likely appear on their water bill, Ladson said. Though the commission has approved the project's first phases, it still must OK charging the fees to homeowners.

The engineering department anticipates resistance from private owners of large expanses of impervious surfaces, such as shopping mall parking lots, runways and large churches, which will not be exempt from the fees, Ladson said.

“We're hoping that they become partners,” he said. “We're going to try to make it a team effort, not just the city, but to get citizens to see the plan and give comments, before we implement the thing.”

Ladson expects the fee to generate $10 million a year. Once funded, the city can immediately tackle long-standing infrastructure maintenance issues, such as corrugated metal piping in south Augusta that fails frequently, he said.

“A lot of those pipes are failing, but we don't have the funds to replace them,” he said.

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