Streetscapes: not just a pretty face

This is the first in a series about local stormwater management and flooding issues

by TRISH RUDDER

The Town of Bath has been improving the town’s streets, sidewalks, lighting and signage that began with its first grant funding of $200,000.

In 2004, Susan Webster was the mayor at that time, and U.S. Senator Shelley Moore Capito was a Congresswoman. Webster, now the Town Recorder, said recently that when Capito asked what she would like to do with the $200,000 grant, Webster started talking about what the town needed. According to Webster, Capito said, “not what you need; what do you want?” Webster said she wanted to make the town more walkable to improve tourism, with new sidewalks, better signage and lighting.

That funding was used to upgrade South Wilkes Street, and was completed in 2008. That was Phase One.

Phase Two was an upgrade of the west side of Mercer Street from Fairfax to Union streets with sidewalks. Phase Two was completed in 2011.

That’s how it all started and little was known how important Streetscaping would become with the addition of green infrastructure.

Proof of success

The most recent Streetscape improvements were completed in November 2016. The project included drainage improvements on Fairfax Street, and green infrastructure for a block of Washington Street.

Called “green” because of the emphasis on infiltration of stormwater and uptake by plants, the project utilized a threefold approach: pavers that allow water to infiltrate into the ground, seating/planter boxes along the street to hold trees and plants for water uptake, and an underground storage system, said Streetscapes committee member Rebecca MacLeod.

Using this green technology, rain or stormwater soaks through the gaps in the pavers and into the planter boxes and enters below into a Silva-cell system. Similar to a Lego-like configuration of frames, the cells provide structural support while maintaining non-compacted soils that easily absorb rain and encourage tree and root growth. Although they remain out of sight, the Silva cells below are a high-functioning subsurface stormwater system that is one of the first in West Virginia.

Four planter boxes along the sidewalk are linked with pipe, and water will be controlled to seep into the soil. Excessive runoff during intense storms is slowly released to storm drains.

Flooding has been a problem in the town when the Warm Springs Run overflows.

On June 3, the town flooded. But for the first time, the improved drainage system on West Fairfax Street stopped water from getting into buildings.

Town of Bath Mayor Scott Merki was eager to share the results of the last streetscapes project and now more people have a better understanding of how valuable green infrastructure is.

“It works,” he said. “We need the state to step up with financial assistance for stormwater management.”

Business owners on Washington Street said the basement flooding problems after the June 3 flood were minimal because of the new green inner workings.

“I’m amazed. It does when they said it would do,” said Amy McBee, owner of Tari’s Premier Cafe. McBee said in the past, most of the damage to her building would be flood water from Washington Street. Since the green infrastructure was installed, “it completely drains. It’s a godsend,” she said.

Berkeley Springs Memories shop owner Barb Wolfe, said “the system works absolutely perfectly. It’s doing what it was intended to do.”

She said before the new system was installed, a heavy rain event brought standing water in front of the Star Theatre at the end of the block on Washington Street. Now “there’s not one puddle on the sidewalk.”

The Town of Bath was awarded a $42,000 green infrastructure grant in June from the Chesapeake Bay Trust toward its next Streetscapes project. The awards ceremony for all the 2018 recipients was held in the Berkeley Springs State Park and tours were conducted to show off Washington Street’s green infrastructure to manage stormwater.

More projects planned

Streetscapes Project Phase Four A will bring upgrades to Congress Street from Wilkes to Washington Streets, and Washington Street from Congress to Independence Streets. One or more rain gardens are planned for Congress Street and the seating/planter boxes will be installed on Washington Street. Four A is set to begin next spring.

Phase Four B, C, and D are still in the planning stages, MacLeod said.

Rain events bring attention

Heavy rainfall in July caused concerns about how the water flows. MacLeod said she took a video of areas on the streets on July 24 during torrential rainfall.

At the bridge over the Warm Springs Run next to the Morgan County Courthouse, MacLeod saw how the water was flowing from the drain into the Run. It was “milky white” which indicates the water came from the gravel parking lot on southeast Fairfax Street. The gravel gets crushed into fine particles and the runoff from the parking lot contributes to the buildup of sediment in the Run.

Resurfacing the Fairfax Street parking lot and adding rain gardens to provide a place where the water could be absorbed are two options to stop that. A 2015 Warm Springs Run Green Infrastructure Study for the Upper Watershed by Thrasher Engineering includes those steps.

Streetscapes committee co-chair Sally Marshall said the lot is privately owned by three entities, and they would have to agree to place a rain garden there. MacLeod said the committees that work together to improve stormwater management in town are willing to assist.

Some homeowners are installing rain gardens and have planted trees on their property to improve stormwater runoff.

Morgan County Commission President Joel Tuttle had said that a rain garden is being planned for the County Courthouse parking lot that has drainage problems and contributes to flooding events.

Tuttle said on Monday that the commission is still looking at a plan to help alleviate the flooding. Some type of bioretention area like a rain garden will be installed in the lot, along with a pipe through the wall next to the Run to collect and divert the water that backs up against the wall.

“We will need to get it done before the next rainy season begins next spring,” Tuttle said.

“We live in a flood zone, so we will have flooding, but we have to find ways to reduce the damage,” MacLeod said. “It’s better for everybody.”

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