Sunday, January 30, 2000

Mason searching for answer to flooding problems

Old sewer can't handle growth

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        MASON — When it rains, Sam Hicks and his family move to higher ground. Such is life on a flood plain.

        “We dread the rain,” says Mr. Hicks, who has lived on Indianwood Drive for the past 23 years.

        “Whenever there is a heavy downpour, our basement gets flooded.”

        Mr. Hicks is not alone. Problems with basement flooding occur regularly at dozens of homes built in south-central Mason.

        As little as 2 inches of rain can cause sewers to back up, dumping mud and raw sewage right into some homeowners' living rooms.

        The problem is caused by an antiquated sewer system that's ill-equipped to handle the area's rapid growth.

        Mason's population has increased 65 percent, from 11,450 in 1990 to an estimated 18,850 in 1998.

        City engineers say Mason granted permits for nearly 600 new homes last year, indicating that the strong growth continues.

        “Twelve years ago, before all of this growth, we never had any problems with flooding,” Mr. Hicks says. “But in the last 10 years my basement has been flooded five times.”

        Water-logged basements, thousands of dollars in property damage and increasing homeowners insurance premiums are only a few of the problems residents face.

        “There are also health concerns,” says Deborah Tracy, a resident of Woodbridge Court. “This is not groundwater that's coming into our homes, it's human waste.”

        Chris Leonard, a resident of Duane Drive, has lost bundles of money and a hot-water heater and has seen his insurance rates skyrocket because of flooding. Two years ago, floodwaters caused more than $11,000 in damage to his home.

        “We can't sell our homes, and it's hard to live in them,” Mr. Leonard says. “We are not willing to live with this any longer.”

        Many of Mr. Leonard's neighbors are fed up, too. They say they are tired of bailing sewage out of their basements and want the city to address the problem quickly.

        City leaders say they're sympathetic.

        “We wish we could fix it overnight, but it's a major project,” Mason Mayor John McCurley says.

        In the meantime, city leaders have turned to a Hamilton-based environmental engineer to help identify problems and recommend corrections.

        Finkbeiner, Pettis & Strout Inc. will be paid $17,700 to study sewers serving the Manhassett Village, Winding Creek and Wood Creek subdivisions.

        The firm will recommend improvements and probable construction costs in about three months.

        The city already spends an average of $1 million a year on water and sewer issues.

        And findings from a study commissioned in late 1998 by Camp Dresser & McKee, a Symmes Township engineering firm that specializes in the development of storm water master plans, will be presented in coming weeks.

        Some council members, however, say they think more should be done.

        “Studies are all good and fine, but we've got to remember that the spring rains are right around the corner,” Councilwoman Betty Davis says.

        Mason's Utilities Committee also is exploring the possibility of installing backflow preventers at homes that flood. Backflow preventers are pipe valves that allow water and sewage to flow from a home's drainage system into the sewer, but stops it from flowing back.

        They cost between $800 and $1,000 each.

        “These devices are not a fail-safe measure by any stretch of the imagination,” says Vice Mayor James Fox, who also sits on the utilities committee.

        “They've been around for years, but unfortunately they've been unreliable for years, too, if not properly maintained and kept clean.”

        Mr. Fox says the board is exploring its options. “Maybe there's a better mousetrap out there somewhere,” he said.


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