After more than 20 years of annual flooding problems brought on by a topographically flat subdivision and poorly maintained or non-existent drainage paths, some residents of a historic Herndon subdivision are demanding the town to listen to their long-standing pleas to protect their homes.
"If you get a real heavy rain along here, on Pearl Street where it meets Wood [Street], all this is covered" with water, said Rich Pierce a nine-year resident of the 600 block of Wood Street. "This whole side of the street. The water just sits there."
Walking up the edge of his property that borders Wood Street and Pearl Street, Pierce pointed out a small ditch and 12-inch culvert that he installed between his property and the road. Recent heavy rains had caused the ditch to become overgrown with an excess of grass and weeds, he pointed out.
"When I first moved in here I spent days digging all this out," said Pierce, swatting periodically at a mosquito. "The kids' area back here used to look like a swamp any time we got rain."
Pierce, like many other residents of his subdivision, has laid hundreds of feet of privately-purchased piping and installed other drainage devices to help expedite the removal of excess rainwater.
PIERCE'S SUBDIVISION is classified as part of the Herndon Historical Preservation District, and therefore falls under zoning ordinances limiting what he and his fellow residents can officially do on their own to alleviate flooding.
"The neighbors and I, we refer to this area as the 'hysterical preservation district,'" said Tom Speirs, a 17-year resident of the 700 block of Florence Place. Speirs has installed more than 300 feet of drainage pipe in his yard since constructing his home in 1989. He estimated the collective cost to be more than $5,000.
Despite the recognition of being in the preservation district, Pierce and Speirs said that all the designation has amounted to for them is more bureaucratic hoops in their efforts to protect their property.
"When I was digging this out I had [a Town of Herndon] employee come and tell me that I can't do that because this area [where he was digging the ditch] is town property," Pierce said. "I told him I had to do something because whether it's town property or not, this water is just sitting in my property."
"I can't understand it. If the town has the right of way, why don't they come and put a ditch in?"
THE PROBLEM OF FLOODING and drainage to Pierce and Speirs’ neighborhood has been known to the town for quite some time, but it wasn’t until recently that the town moved to add it as a project for the budget, said council member Bill Tirrell.
“We have known that there have been problems for some time, but it was not something that was on the table [for the town’s budget] as I can remember, until recently,” said Tirrell, who has served non-consecutive terms on the Town Council since 1990.
Due to the increased demand from area residents to do something about the poor condition of the sidewalks and drainage capabilities of the subdivision, the Town of Herndon has designated $50,000 in fiscal year 2007 and $660,000 in fiscal year 2012 for improvements.
“There’s no question that drainage has been a problem in that particular part of the town,” Tirrell said. “The bottom line is that the attention of the planning commission and council has been drawn to this problem … and we’re looking to do something about it.”
WHILE RAINS STRONG enough to submerge roads and cause serious property flooding problems happen only two to three times a year, they're a constant threat in most months of the year, Pierce said.
The flooding of the neighborhood isn't just forcing residents to pay for pricey clean-ups as a result of water-leakage in basements, but also creating health and safety problems for all area residents and visitors, said Speirs.
The inordinate number of mosquitoes being bred in the numerous pools of standing water lead to an increased risk of West Nile Virus, he said. Flooding has also resulted in widespread erosion throughout the neighborhood, weakening the structural capabilities of roads and sidewalks, he added.
THE PROBLEMS ON WOOD and Pearl Streets reach at least as far back as 1985, according to Mary Burger, a 50-year resident of the 600 block of Wood Street.
After a house in the subdivision completed construction on a brand new three-car garage on a higher level of land than most of the structures in the area, a strong rainstorm brought deep pools of water to the backyards of several neighborhood residents, she said.
"The flooding has been a problem directly because of all the new developments in the neighborhood," Burger said. "Any house that's built, they build it higher than the others, so that water will run down and the drainage problems get worse and worse."
Burger recalled a former resident had written a letter to the Town of Herndon, calling attention to the need for increased drainage maintenance in the subdivision.
It was sent in 1985.
To this day, the only thing that has been done in her subdivision is the establishment of a small ditch along one portion of Pearl Street and the addition of a sewage culvert beneath the street, Burger said. The culvert had only reduced effects due to its small size and poor maintenance, she added.
After a strong rainstorm in 2001 left pools of standing water throughout her yard, Burger said that her ex-husband used a backhoe to dig out a drainage path to free up more space for drainage.
"We've all sort of become experts at the drainage prevention thing," said Pierce, who helped Burger's ex-husband dig out the pathway.
THE DELUGE OF Burger’s neighborhood has been on the radar of town administrators since at least 2003, when Bob Boxer, director of Herndon’s Public Works, started his job with the town.
"That area is very flat and a lot of that water is just sitting there after a heavy rain," Boxer said. "The water is not getting to where we need it to be for proper drainage."
While $50,000 has been designated for repairing the Wood Street sidewalk this year, Boxer said that the $660,000 is merely a rough estimate made by officials as to what would need to be done. As the project nears its start date, more accurate cost estimates will be made, he said.
The biggest hurdle towards making the necessary improvements to the subdivision is in finding the necessary funds in the town's Capital Improvement Program budget, according to Boxer.
"We've recognized that there is this need and we've created this project, but it joins the list of a lot of very important projects in the town," Boxer said. "There are a lot of people fighting for a limited amount of money."
WALKING ALONG WOOD Street, Burger gestured to the road and grass that borders its side, pointing out that the two are on virtually even levels.
"This road has been raised so many times and they've never done anything to put in a proper gutter," she said. "The only way they'll clean up this neighborhood is if they lower the road, put in proper curbs and guttering ... and do something about getting this water to flow through the culvert better."
But she doesn't blame the town's public works department.
"They do a great job, but there's so much to be done in Herndon and they can only do what they're ordered to do with the resources that they have," Burger said.
"But this has been going on for a long time ... too long," she added. "It's time that Herndon wakes up and makes the effort to take care of its historic district."
In the face of the constant battle against flooding, Pierce said that he still does not regret his choice to live in Herndon, nor does he plan on moving.
"You can't find anywhere else in this area like this. You've got a beautiful downtown here, there are places to walk to," he said. "It's just got a real bad problem with flooding."
"If the town has all this pride in the area, we just need to do something to maintain it."