City of Olney Addresses Flooding, Fire Hydrants and Sewage
The City of Olney has a master plan that includes a list of items to improve the infrastructure in Olney. However, funding plays an integral role in fundamental improvements. City Administrator Doug Hughes and City Secretary Tim Houston stopped by Olney Enterprise to discuss two key issues Olney residents have expressed concerned about: flooding and fire hydrants.
Regarding the flooding issues in Olney, Houston said a storm drainage system with curbside gutters would be ideal, but those systems are prohibitively expensive to install for small towns. He said the city has a master plan with provisions for drainage updates that is part of the 20-year plan. While drainage updates are not a priority on the list, he explained the efficiency of the way they handle flooding issues currently.
“A lot of the drainage issues are simply because the town is flat for the most part. [As a result,] water accumulates in the streets. We have made efforts like the drainage ditch in [Griffin] Park to circumvent flooding by redirecting the water out of town. There is also another drainage ditch by the Texas-New Mexico yard that allows additional drainage,” Houston said.
Houston continued, “In terms of flooding on the streets, we try to put up barricades as fast as possible when we realize it is going to be a rain that causes significant amounts of water to gather. The intersection of Grand and Main Street is one of those unfortunate areas that receives a significant amount of water.”
Although the existing drainage system does not address all flooding concerns during heavy rain, Hughes pointed out that heavy rain can overwhelm the best drainage systems.
“To my knowledge the city has not received any complaints from people regarding storm water damage. The city sympathizes with anybody who has to deal with excessive storm water,” Hughes said.
After addressing flooding concerns, Hughes and Houston provided an update about the fire hydrants that have been repaired along with the costs associated with maintenance. Nonworking fire hydrants became a hot discussion topic among concerned citizens after the destruction of the Rhodes’ home that was caused by a fire in 2017. This topic has resurfaced recently with the growing concern of residents who have requested an update.
Residents Garry and Carol Rhodes wrote a letter of inquiry to Olney Enterprise’s editor that appeared in the issue dated April 21, 2016. The Rhodes’ stated in their letter that the fire hydrant located on the corner of Oak Street and Avenue M was destroyed after a 2015 motor vehicle accident. They asked, “My question is will the hydrant be replaced and if so, when. If not, why?” The then City Administrator Danny Parker confirmed the replacement would occur in the future “as time and manpower allows.”
A subsequent letter written by the Rhodes’ appeared in the issue dated April 13, 2017. They stated that their house burned down March 27, 2017, and they claim the house may have burned down because of the nonworking fire hydrant that was located near their 45-yearold home. The Rhodes’ wrote, “Three years ago a motor vehicle wreck took out the fire hydrant and it was never replaced. It took firemen precious time to hunt another hydrant then they needed more hose. Would anything have saved the old house? Who knows?”
Houston said the city is not insensitive to the concerns of residents regarding nonworking hydrants. “We understand that the Rhodes’ lost their house a couple of years ago and our fire chief, Ron Keeter, said on average they could have water going within 90 seconds from a nearby hydrant in town. The hydrant located by the Rhodes’ house had to be removed because the line feeding it was a twoinch line, and that type of line may have been sufficient a long time ago. But if one of our trucks would hook up to it [now], it would collapse that water line because it can’t handle enough water to push through to the truck.”
In the minutes from a City Council meeting held on April 10, 2017 Chief Keeter stated in regards to comments about the fire at the Rhodes’ house “that they took the hose down to the nearest available hydrant and had water service within a minute and a half.”
Houston emphasized that a two-inch water line was inadequate and could not provide the necessary water pressure for today’s fire trucks that pump water straight from the hydrant. “It could produce a situation where if there is not a nearby valve down at the other end of the block, you could have an uncontrolled release of water. However, the working hydrants in the city can handle the demand for water placed upon them in an emergency.”
Hughes commented on the fire hydrant testing. “It is my understanding that two years ago, there were several fire hydrants that were pressure tested. After the testing, 23 fire hydrants were serviced, and as a result, they are functional. There are still a few [fire hydrants] that need to be replaced or serviced.”
“Unfortunately, cost prohibits immediate replacement or repair of the remaining hydrants . “One fire hydrant is estimated at $2,000 plus the cost of valves that may need to be replaced, serviced or installed,” Hughes stated.
Houston added that they must also consider the cost of manpower that is required to install hydrants and valves, which can be a significant undertaking for city crews. The total cost exceeds $2,000 when you consider all the costs.
Meanwhile, Hughes and Houston are actively looking for grant opportunities to address some of the pending infrastructure repair issues. “Unfortunately, you don’t always win the grant. Generally, we like to try to replace at least a couple of fire hydrants a year if possible,” Houston said.
The City of Olney is applying for a $275,000 Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) that will not be used for drainage improvements or fire hydrant replacement. Instead, all of the CDBG funds will be used to reduce wastewater infiltration, which is a higher priority on the master plan because of state mandates. If awarded, the city will invest an additional $41,500 along with funds to cover the expense of the replacement of sewage pipe, which will expand the size of the pipe and install more manholes on Springcreek Road--where almost all of Olney’s sewage north of Springcreek flows through.
Hughes pointed out that part of the water system and fire protection is included in the master plan.
Houston said that several priorities listed in the master plan have already been taken care of. Both acknowledge that most of the citizens’ concerns are things they plan on improving with adequate funding.
“We understand that some folks in town have concerns, but we are asking people to bear with us knowing that we have a plan in place that we are working on. It takes time for small cities like Olney to get through [infrastructure improvements]. We must prioritize and make sure we provide the most services that are within our budget,” Houston concluded.