WSAZ Investigates | Flooded and Frustrated

WSAZ Investigates | Flooded and Frustrated
Published: Oct. 12, 2022 at 6:30 PM EDT
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KANAWHA COUNTY, W.Va. (WSAZ) - Imagine every time it rains your home becomes surrounded by high water.

For half a century, that has been the reality for much of one community in our region.

It’s a problem we’ve been telling you about for years. The state says a fix is in the works, but neighbors say they’re not seeing any progress -- and the wait is testing their properties and their patience.

Even on the brightest days in Rand, there is always a dark cloud hanging over neighbors’ heads. That’s because every time it rains, it pours.

Resident Mack Reed explains that the rain has nowhere to go, so the water collects in streets, floods homes and surrounds others.

“I can’t get out of my house,” Reed said. “I got to go through the back. I’m trying to say right and honestly, it has come so far, maybe maybe two inches from getting in our house.”

We were first introduced to Reed in 2020. He told us then that the thoughts of the potential danger high water brings have flooded his memory for decades.

“My main concern is for somebody to lose their life, and we don’t want that,” he said.

Two years later, he says those same worries keep him up at night. That fear is brought on by an underground stormwater system that state and county officials say caved about half a century ago -- creating drainage problems that run deep.

“Look here, right down the middle, and there’s you a big void,” said resident Bryan Smith, referring to a crack in the middle of his childhood home on Harvard Avenue. “Look at the sidewalk puckered up. The walk going to the house is sinking. There is a void underneath the house. The house is leaning upriver where it’s washed out from that right there.”

The West Virginia Division of Highways is charged with coming up with a permanent solution to the problem, so WSAZ’s Sarah Sager reached out to ask for an interview about the agency’s plans and when neighbors will see changes.

The spokesperson didn’t answer or return Sager’s calls. She also sent several emails -- the first on Sept. 21. The spokesperson initially replied – stating “the consultant on the project is actively designing a drainage system to assist the community of Rand with the problem storm drains.”

When Sager asked if there was a timeline, she was told “a timeline for construction will be not available until after the design is complete.” She asked the same spokesperson multiple times for an interview with state Department of Transportation Secretary Jimmy Wriston, but those requests were ignored.

However, a little less than two weeks after Sager first reached out to the DOH, residents told her they received emails and flyers from the agency about an upcoming public meeting on the project.

State Sen. Glenn Jeffries, D-Putnam, no longer represents Rand because of redistricting, but he has spent a lot of time working to see this project through and knows it’s a long time coming.

Sager: “Do you understand the frustrations of the community?”

Jeffries: “I do; I understand the frustrations. I would be frustrated.”

Sager: “So where are we today?”

Jeffries: “Today, the Department of Highways is doing the project in phases. They have completed phase one. Their study, they’re currently in phase two, which will lay out the construction of the project, the sizing of the pipe and the right-(of)-ways that they’ll have to purchase. And so once it’s completed, then they’ll jump to the next phase.”

Jeffries said the price tag for the project is about $15 million -- money that has been set aside from sources like the Roads to Prosperity program, the federal bipartisan Infrastructure Bill and state budget surpluses.

Neighbors like Smith and Reed are worried about how much longer they’re going to have to wait, as well as how much more water their homes can withstand.

Smith said, “OK, this is tentatively going to be fixed and has been tentatively going to be fixed since ‘76. so that means I hear you, but I don’t care. That’s what it means to me. My dad’s 82 years old. I’m 53 years old. My mom is 80, so if you can’t get a phase a year done, and that means we’re looking at a decade, I’ll be lucky to see it here.”

Reed said, “After 50 years, we still don’t have a timeline. I mean, I don’t know. I mean, i just know we pay our taxes like everyone else’s. And I’m like, where’s our money going? Seems like it’s not going up in this area.”

Sager reached out to the DOH again, asking about the total number of phases and when construction could begin, but she didn’t get any clear answers.

The DOH did send out a press release Wednesday about that public meeting they’re holding on the project next week.

Residents tell Sager it’s the first community meeting the DOH has scheduled about the project. It is scheduled from 4 to 7 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 18 at the Rand Community Center.

They say project maps will be on display, and the contractor will be there to answer questions and help the public understand the flow of water in the area.

We will be at that meeting, as well, and will update you with what we learn. Keep checking the WSAZ app for the latest.