Efforts to Abate Hurricane Isabel's Effects Continue

Efforts to Abate Hurricane Isabel's Effects Continue

Belle View owners passe loan vote and stormwater engineers work on plans.

It took a while, but condo owners at Belle View Condominiums approved taking out a loan to help pay for damages heaped on them by Hurricane Isabel five weeks ago.

Condo owners were covered with insurance for up to $1.25 million. However, voters approved seeking $1.5 million from the Small Business Administration and another $2.5 million from a commercial lender to cover the entire cost.

Without this vote outcome, the alternative would have been for the owners to pay a hefty special assessment.

Leslie Violette, treasurer for the Belle View Condominiums, said, "We are in the process of seeking a loan. We're still working with SBA, but we've asked our commercial management corporation to contact several banks."

But the approval almost didn't happen. After spending weeks to advertise the meeting and working hard to get a quorum, the Board of Directors for Belle View Condominiums almost saw their work fly out the window.

More than halfway through a well attended meeting held last week intended to get condo owners' approval for the loan, there was a motion made to postpone the vote. But after about 10 minutes of discussion, another motion was made to suspend discussion on the motion. A vote was taken with only 15 yeas voting to postpone. The vote to approve the loan continued.

Owners questions what would happen if they didn't take out a loan? How would they decide which type of loan the board would take? Would individual's units be used as collateral?

Finally, at around 8:45 p.m., Kip Smith, president of the association, commented on the lateness of the hour. That apparently was all that was needed to close the meeting. Everyone, it seemed, had heard enough and was ready to cast their vote. Ballots were finally cast and people began to straggle out of the Mount Vernon United Methodist Church.

It didn't take long to count the vote — 93 percent of the owners were in favor of taking out a loan. The Board was now free to start negotiating.

Violette said that they're still not sure what the terms will be, saying that it will depend on the bank. "I don't think we'll have a lot of options," she said.

THE BOARD IS hoping that they will not have to pledge the condo's assessments, instead hoping that the good health of the financial statements will suffice. Violette said that so far, not having the money in hand hasn't stymied their efforts. She said that the board has been able to negotiate with most of the contractors to pay at the end when the work is complete.

"So far, we're okay," she said, and proceeded to give an update on all the areas of repair and restoration. Violette said that all but five buildings had the gas turned on and all but 10 buildings had permanent electricity. She also said that almost all units now had hot water; the tanks haven‚t all been replaced, but the county allowed the association to turn on the heaters with the backup power which is how the ones which didn't fail are now operating. Plumbers have started replacing the tanks.

Violette said that the basement cleanup is done and that the storage units are currently being painted. Owners should be able to start using the storage units soon; washers and dryers are also going back in. Carpeting in the foyers and stairways will be replaced after the washers and dryers are installed.

Work on the J units and townhouses will also begin in the next few days. The latest estimate for restoration on each J unit was $30,000, which was considerably less than originally thought.

"People will start going back to a normal life again soon," said Violette. "By next month, they'll be seeing great improvements."

WORK ALSO CONTINUES in New Alexandria. Homeowner and the Monthly President for the New Alexandria Civic Association, Deb Sell-Pugh, said that most homeowners have gotten a grant for temporary housing from FEMA; the ones who did not have filed an appeal.

"Most of us are either staying with relatives and friends or were able to rent an apartment or condo. Some are in River Towers, Belle View and Beacon Hill. I only know of one home that is totally uninhabitable. The house needs to be totally rebuilt and the owners are waiting on approval from the SBA for a loan as they did not have insurance. The structure apparently moved and the floors are sagging. All of us have begun the SBA process for loans as far as I know," she said.

Sell-Pugh also said that most of the homes have been gutted: walls, floors, sub-floors all removed. All gas appliances have been either repaired or replaced.

"There was some confusion about repairing gas appliances and the county staff sent letters to the owners stating they must be replaced. This turned out to be false and some have been repaired. My house seems typical: no hot water, no oven, no furnace, no a/c, removed the walls up to at least four feet, replaced all electrical outlets and/or BX-type wiring. This means that all wiring has to be replaced in the entire house," said Sellpugh.

When asked what people still needed, she said, "We have a few older residents that still need some help cleaning up. I have noticed at least three that have had little or nothing done. One was occupied by a father and son. I am told that the father has been placed in a nursing home and the son in a mentally facility. They had no place to go after the flooding. Both have medical conditions and needed additional assistance for that."

A MEETING OF the New Alexandria Civic Association will be held on Tuesday, Nov. 28, at the Mount Vernon United Methodist Church at 7 p.m.; information about existing needs will be collected at that time. A website, http://e.domaindlx.com/naca/ is being developed to disseminate information.

Judging by the amount of food collected by the Bucknell Little League, the community hasn't forgotten about the flood victims. Pat Malone, president of the league, said that they collected almost $3,000 worth of food. He turned the collection over to the maintenance workers at Belle View this week. The food was delivered to the association office, where it will be dispersed first to J unit owners and then to others who need it.

Also, Landmark Honda has hopped on the helping wagon and is offering special discounts to Belle View residents whose cars were ruined by Hurricane Isabel.

THE ENGINEERS at the Stormwater Planning Division haven't forgotten the people of Belle View and New Alexandria, either. Donald Demetrius, an engineer with the division, said that they have been asked by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors to study the current stormwater management setup and present an initial plan for changes.

Demetrius said that he wasn't with that division when the initial installation was done, but is very familiar with the history and current workings of the stormwater management system.

He said that the initial proposal involved the building of a 13-foot berm along the George Washington Parkway. Demetrius said that the citizens didn't like that idea, because they worried that it would adversely affect the marsh life, among other things.

Instead, the engineers did a frequency analysis and based on the frequency and level of storms from storm records, they determined that a 7-foot tide gate built along the east channel would protect against a 20-year flood. There are currently two channels that run through the area; the east channel runs through the lower part of New Alexandria into Belle View; the west channel is in the upper end of New Alexandria.

BEFORE THEY BEGAN work on the tide gate, they needed to alleviate the more constant problem of rainwater flooding the upper part of New Alexandria. They built a pump house on the west channel behind Belle View Shopping Center. This colonial brick structure blends in so well that most people don't even realize that it's there. Yet, without it, the northwest quadrant of New Alexandria, which is very low, would see flooding much more often.

The pump house is designed such that when the rainwater in the canal leading to the pump house gets too high, a series of four machines inside pump the water out to the river. To protect from high tides, there is also a permanent tide gate that doesn't let the water coming up the channel from high tides pass the pump house.

While the pump house was built in 1991, it wasn't until 1997 that the tide gate was built on I Street between Woodhaven and Potomac avenues. Even that had some controversy.

The original proposal called for the tide gate to be built closer to Belle View Boulevard, but residents complained, so it was moved to its current location. Demetrius said that it wouldn't have been much difference, but had it been built where it was planned, it would have kept some of the water from flowing where it did.

THE GATE IN this situation is not fixed; rather it is designed to open when the water is too high on one side. It's mostly designed to prevent overflowing from high tides. If the water from high tide coming up the channel is higher than 7 feet, the gate opens to let some of the water to continue upstream. The channel was dredged enough that it can manage the extra water flow in normal situations.

The water and surge from Hurricane Isabel was not what one would call a normal situation. The combination of the rise in water level from the tidal surge which came from south to north and the rainfall which dumped water flowing north to south was too much for the tide gate to handle. Both the east and west channels overflowed their banks.

"It could have been much worse," said Demetrius. "If we had gotten the 6-7 inches of rain that was predicted, the water level would have been much higher."