Wayne residents offer input, seek repairs in storm water aftermath

Township officials drew maps of North Wayne areas affected by the May 15 – May 16 rainfall, including the area of North Wayne Avenue and Beechtree Lane (above). Residents were encouraged to inform administrators if any of the water flow directions were incorrect or came from elsewhere.
Township officials drew maps of North Wayne areas affected by the May 15 – May 16 rainfall, including the area of North Wayne Avenue and Beechtree Lane (above). Residents were encouraged to inform administrators if any of the water flow directions were incorrect or came from elsewhere. (Josh Fernandez / PHILLY.COM)

The summer season evokes excitement over beach weather and summer breaks, but for the residents of Wayne in Radnor Township, summer leaves a cringe over two words: storm water.

The storm on the night of May 15 created two-and-a-half to three inches of rain in a matter of an hour, resulting in more than 20 emergency phone calls, about five Poplar Avenue residents’ cars getting swept away, flodded basements, approximately five tons of storm debris, clogged pipes and the inability of the North Wayne Field basin to retain water.

This was the fourth time in the last two years that the township experienced watershed related damage and flooding.

With summer storm season on the horizon and widespread damage to the areas of Wayne, especially North Wayne, the township’s Board of Commissioners took action with a 4-2 at the Monday, May 21 meeting to approve a $200,000 emergency fund for quick responses to storm water issues that cannot wait.

The township followed this meeting up with a Tuesday, May 22 residents meeting at the Radnor Township Public Works garage, where more than 30 residents attended to further discuss the matter. Township Manager Bob Zienkowski, Commissioner Jim Higgins and Public Works Director Steve Norcini were among the handful of township officials who attended and facilitated the meeting.

“I understand there’s a credibility problem with Radnor Township, and that’s not Bob’s fault,” Higgins said toward the beginning of the meeting. “He inherited a severe problem which is getting worse…people in the township and myself are going to do everything we can to help this problem.”

Steve Norcini, director of public works, said his department had already begun clean up, pointing to a blue township truck filled beyond the brim with stones and debri.

Norcini said part of the problem is that the storm water management system currently in place is designed to handle a 25-year storm (meaning in any given year, there’s a 4 percent chance a storm even will occur once over a 25-year period). The drainage system in place, therefore, is not sufficient enough to address Radnor’s water runoff following storms.

Since the budget amendment emergency fund was approved Monday night, the township commenced the dredging of a number of the creek beds in Radnor.

It was also noted that the AT&T on North Wayne Avenue as well as the SEPTA and Amtrak stations had accumulated a lot of water from last week’s storm, causing water runoff in nearby areas.

Zienkowski and Noricini said they sent e-mails to both AT&T and SEPTA to address this issue appealing to the entities’ corporate citizenship.

Stew Young said he observed the Gulph Creek from the backyard of his property on Poplar Avenue, and that the water wasn’t its usual lucid brown color.

“It was darker, much more than ever, like it was pitch black,” Young said. “Something upstream is going on…I can see evidence of the flash flood that occurs.”

Norcini explained to Young and the other residents that if the basin fills “it’s going to come right back down” and that the township can hope dredging and using hoses on different properties would help to somewhat alleviate the creek and property runoffs.

Wayne Resident Kevin Moroney asked if the township was going to rework the infrastructure of the pipelines if they’d also look into ways to delay water flow to the creeks.

The township manager said that could possibly be done looking at other areas of Wayne with impervious surface, as well as looking into a storm water utility, which Higgins referred to as “a euphemism for tax.”

Zienkowski said the utility is still in the early stages, and a feasibility study of it needs to go before the board for approval at the June 18 meeting. Zienkowski and Norcini explained that the township was not in an ideal financial position, and the utility’s study and implementation – estimated to cost more than $250,000 – would help the township keep pace with rising costs, allowing the township to fix problems as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Multiple residents seemed leery about the utility, with one resident saying that the $2 million in general fund for emergencies could surely help in these kinds of circumstances, but “some of us aren’t happy talking about raising taxes, creating new problems before we solve this problem.”

Administrators understood the concern, but responded that the “band aid” solution to the watershed problem has gone on far enough, and it’s not getting any better.

“We need to come behind a particular funding mechanism…funding is a big issue,” Norcini said.

Overall, both township personnel and residents seemed to leave the garage on hopeful terms.

Township Manager Zienkowski thought the meeting went well, and said the information shared by residents would further help the township. He added that both entities, the township and its residents, proved to be great resources for one another.

“That was a lot of courtesy and patience they shared given how long this issue has gone on for…they’ve helped put us in the direction, for example, of where the water really flows from,” Zienkowski said.

It was the first kind of meeting Wayne resident Christine Lucas attended. Lucas said her experience with this storm’s watershed was as frustrating as everyone else’s, which is what brought her to the public works garage.

“I’m glad to hear we have some emergency funds, and the one-to-three weeks time frame for action sounds pretty good,” Lucas said after the meeting. “I love living in Wayne, it’s a wonderful place…it’s why we work together to solve this problem.”