Fortunately, my daughter, Katey, and her family -- one patient husband, two nearly-perfect children, two old cats and one crazy dog -- live on the high ground of the Battery Park neighborhood of Richmond’s Northside. Although they are dealing with some small leaks the flooding that has the southern tip of that area under water, once again, has not taken their home from them.
Today (Saturday) their less fortunate neighbors, down the hill, are living through yet another nightmare of rising water.
Some of Katey’s neighbors lost their homes during last month’s Ernesto fiasco. She says the rains of the last two days has the water back up at Ernesto level again. More neighbors’ homes are being damaged/destroyed by the foul water that is backing up from the sewers, instead of draining off.
For those who’ve been put out of their homes the problem feels like a disaster of Katrina proportion. Yet, the Federal government did not allow the infrastructure in Northside to fall into such disrepair. Nor is the Commonwealth of Virginia culpable. No. Whatever failure has allowed this local disaster to take place flowed from years of neglect by the City of Richmond. The buck stops at City Hall.
Perhaps the feds or the state will help Battery Park. But no amount of blame-shifting demagoguery will change the truth -- this problem had been bubbling for decades because Richmond’s government had other priorities.
Mayor L. Douglas Wilder didn’t bury an essential sewer pipe below a landfill. No. That happened long before his watch began. Nor was he a member of the City Councils that ignored the fact that pipe was probably leaking in the 1970s, 1980s, etc., and was likely to cave in one day. But it has happened on his watch.
While Mayor Wilder diddled with where to put a new baseball park or other costly developments, his administration -- if not he, himself -- knew that sewer problem in Battery Park was there.
In 1978 the Fan District Softball League played some of its games on a softball field on that same landfill. I remember that whenever it rained heavily right field was a swamp. It was a swamp that smelled bad. We were told it was because of the landfill. That explanation worked then. Now I’m pretty sure we were smelling raw sewage leaking from a cracked pipe.
The neighborhood around that field on top of the landfill, several blocks south of where Katey lives now, was rather isolated and mostly poor people lived there. It seemed to me then that nobody cared to look into the problem of the stinky floods. All the softball players cared about was that it made the field unplayable.
Now I want to hear the unvarnished truth about what The City knew about that sewer pipe and when it knew it. The citizens of Battery Park deserve no less. Now I want to know how trusted officials could ignore that infrastructure problem while they poured tax money into new projects.
Wilder knows that a long list of local politicians, weren’t willing to raise the tax money and apply it to Battery Park’s problem. He knows, too, that if this problem had been in Windsor Farms it would have been fixed a long time ago. So, when will he announce that all expenditures for new projects are being put on hold until we get our arms around what it’s going to cost to solve Richmond’s basic problem with draining off storm water?
This is not just Battery Park’s problem, it’s Richmond’s problem. The ball is in Wilder’s court. Can he deliver more than rhetoric? Does he have the will to make this right?
Read Bill McKelway's excellent Richmond Times-Dispatch piece, "Draining Battery Park," about this tragic situation, with no end in sight. Then the RT-D’s Michael Paul Williams wades in with his, “City flooded with need, not action.”
Now I call upon metro area bloggers to pull together to help shine a spotlight on this worthy issue. We don't have to agree on everything. But I think we can agree that the truth has to come out before a real solution will ever been found. If blogs such as Buttermilk & Molasses, Haduken, One Man’s Trash, RiverCityRapids, SaveRichmond, South of the James, and others who are willing, band together ... maybe we can use the Internet to help save a neighborhood from drowning in the indifference it is accustomed to being shown.
Note: This post was updated on Oct. 9 at 12:15 p.m.