Flooded neighborhoods ask for City Council’s help

By Bobby Bryant, Editor, editor@newsandpress.net

“Darlington is drowning,” one resident told City Council last week in asking for help with continuing flooding problems.

She was one of two citizens who addressed council during its monthly meeting Aug. 6, and both asked the city to make more use of its “vac truck,” a specialized vehicle for cleaning out storm drains and sewers.

“That truck should be out there every day because Darlington is drowning,” resident Rose Pruitt told council.

“I don’t think for an instant that I’m the only area that floods in town,” she said. “I’m aware that those big storms have caused some problems. However, I’ve (had) 2 feet of water at the end of my driveway … I’ve got water lapping at siding that was recently replaced because of this flooding damage.” She lives in the West Broad Street area.

“We’ve got that vac truck. We paid a lot of tax money for it. I don’t know how often it’s used, but it doesn’t get out often enough,” Pruitt said.

She said neighbors located a blocked, choked section of storm drains in her area – which she said is not in the city’s “master stormwater plan” for relief work. The blocked line could easily be cleared with the vac truck, she said – “It’s just something that’s been overlooked.”

“It’s not just my property,” Pruitt said. “It’s all my neighbors’ property. It’s escalating. We’ve got cars stalling out. We’ve got crazy people trying to go 100 miles an hour and hydroplane. And this time … somebody tried to go around the flooded street, and they’re going down the sidewalk.”

“ … It’s hurricane season; we’re all just one flood away from getting washed away.”

Another resident who lives in the West Broad Street area, Dianne Pruitt, told council: “We … are experiencing some horrific problems because, again, this area of town is the worst-flooded area of town, and it was completely left off the master plan. I have a hard time understanding how that happened, when there was such a discussion about it to begin with.”

“While Rose Pruitt and some of her neighbors tracked down where the drain lines are, didn’t y’all pay engineers to do that job?” she asked.

The flooding, fueled by strong summer storms, has been bad enough lately that at least two Pee Dee television stations have done stories featuring video of swamped streets and stalled cars. The coverage has made Darlington look bad on TV, she said, and “we don’t need that.”

In addition, Curtis Boyd, a businessman challenging Mayor Gloria Hines in this fall’s mayoral election, has made the street flooding a campaign issue. He says the flooding – a problem that goes back several decades — is holding back economic development in Darlington, and says “fear of flooding” should not be an issue for residents or businesses.

In her remarks to council, Dianne Pruitt echoed Rose Pruitt’s warning about possible major storms to come. “It is hurricane season, and the rain we’ve experienced over the last three or four months is nothing like we’re fixing to experience. We’ve got to address this problem right now.”

Hines told City Manager Howard Garland to check on the vac truck’s availability.

The two residents’ assertions that their neighborhoods had been left off the city’s master plan for dealing with stormwater issues sparked a testy exchange among some council members and Jannie Lathan, a consultant involved in developing the plan.

Lathan, who was attending the council meeting, took the podium – without council’s consent – to address some of the questions about the master stormwater plan. “I know this is out of order,” she said, but she told council she could clear up some questions quickly.

The stormwater plan, Lathan said, divided the city into four quadrants so that officials could develop priorities for investing money and resources. “What the city did proceed to do, based on that plan, was hire engineers and design stormwater projects in southwest and southeast Darlington, which were the priority areas because everything was draining from north to south.”

Councilman Bryant Gardner asked Lathan: “You said the stormwater master plan included the entire city?”

“Exactly,” Lathan said.

“I can’t find the Country Club, the Medford neighborhood, Oakdale or any of those neighborhoods (on the master plan),” Gardner told her.

Lathan replied: “Because it was not designed — OK? … Let me finish, please. It was not designed to go neighborhood by neighborhood. It was designed to look at the entire city, break the city up into four quadrants … and then, from that, look at laying out a plan, not a ‘design,’ and (based) upon that plan, the city could hire engineers to design specific projects in specific areas. …”

Councilman John Milling ended the discussion by pointing out that Lathan was not on council’s agenda for the night. He said council needed to move on to the other items on the agenda. Milling said Lathan should return later and give council a detailed presentation dealing with questions about the stormwater plan.

Lathan walked away from the podium before Milling had finished speaking.

Also last week, council postponed a vote on setting up fines for individuals and companies whose automated alarm systems often signal a false fire alarm.

Darlington Public Safety Director Kelvin Washington and city Fire Chief Pat Cavanaugh told council that in a recent seven-day period, the city got nine false alarms from a single business (not named). Each call meant dispatching fire trucks that might be needed at a real fire.

Washington said the city has no way to pressure business owners into repairing malfunctioning alarm systems. (Cavanaugh said the problem mostly comes from businesses, not private homes.) He and Cavanaugh are proposing an ordinance that would set up a series of escalating fines for false alarms.

The plan would monitor false alarms by the month. There would be no fine for the first two false alarms. For the third, fourth and fifth false alarms, the fine would be $50 per response. For the sixth and seventh, $100 per response. For the eighth and ninth, $200 per response. For the 10th and above, $500 per response.

Council asked for some revisions in the proposed ordinance, and Washington and Cavanaugh agreed to make the changes and submit the plan again.

In other business at the Aug. 6 meeting:

— Council agreed to give $5,000 in hospitality-tax funds to the Darlington Country Club to support the club’s annual Southern 500 Golf Tournament. Club owners Timmy and Nancy Huntley said the Aug. 23-25 event normally brings in about 150 golfers from across the Southeast and usually attracts about 400 visitors. They said the tournament usually costs $35,000 to put on, and asked council for $7,500 in H-tax funds to keep it going.

— Hines presented a key to the city and a plaque to Darlington Raceway President Kerry Tharp. “Even though they are not in the city, they have done great things for the city of Darlington,” Hines said. Tharp told council: “I love living in Darlington. I’m committed to this community. … When we put that race on over there, it gives us a lot of pride.”

— Council gave initial approval to a “cost recovery” plan that would hold at-fault drivers and their insurance companies, rather than the city Fire Department, responsible for costs incurred in responding to vehicle accidents.

— Council endorsed a plan that would set up special property tax assessments for rehabilitated historic properties. Garland said the plan would need approval from all the governing bodies in Darlington County to make it effective countywide. “This is the first step toward that tonight,” he said.

Author: Rachel Howell

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