The recovery continues in Camden County after Hurricane Irma, but flood victims and city leaders continue to wrestle with the pace of bureaucracy to receive federal and state assistance.
The victims –
Josh and Jessica Smith, who live on Lakevine in Kingsland where Josh is stationed at King Bay, experienced significant flood damage during the storm. They moved to Kingsland in May of 2017 and wanted to pick a place where flooding would not be a concern for their family. Based on the current flood maps, their realtor told them this area is not designated as a flood zone.
Their home flooded, along with many others in that area during the storm and Jessica attributes much of the flooding to city neglect of drainage and sewer concerns.
“A week before the storm, the city cut down a bunch of trees and limbs behind my house, and they were never picked up. They were just back there near the creek. All the brush was just left there, and it flooded back there,” Smith said.
“We moved down here from Chattanooga, TN and my husband is stationed at Kings Bay. Both the realtor and insurance company said our home was not in a flood zone,” said Jessica Smith. “When preparing for the hurricane, neighbors told us that it had not flooded there. Eight inches of water entered the house. Now, the whole house is gutted. The whole kitchen and all the bathrooms and vinyl…all the furniture is ruined along with the appliances.”
The FEMA disaster assistance deadline is approaching, and Smith encourages people who have not applied for FEMA assistance to go down to the Disaster Recovery Center and get their questions answered instead of waiting for an answer. The last day to file FEMA claims is November 14th.
Another military family, Tex and Tracy Gill, endured flooding in both Hurricanes Matthew and Irma. The Gills bought their home on Wolf Bay Circle in Kingsland in 2010 but started to live in the home in 2016 after renting it for five years.
“There has been flooding before us. It flooded twice. We have been trying to find out if the city has been taking care of it,” said Tex Gill.
According to Tex, the city manager, Lee Spell, said they were going to look and try to find significant events with their home.
“They are trying to see if there are any records of a rebuilding of the home in the city records,” said Tex.
Tex said he tried to get that information, but the records are shredded after seven years. He also spoke with neighbors in the area that have lived there more than a decade. Tex stated that his home is the lowest lying house in the area and catches all the drainage in the neighborhood.
The day that Irma was schedule to impact Kinsland, Tex was preparing his family for the worst after their flooding experience with Hurricane Matthew last year. The interior of their home flooded during Hurricane Matthew and the Gills evacuated. Four days later after returning, their home was completely flooded with sewage water. The Gills lost all of their belongings due to the flooding related to Hurricane Matthew.
“I knew we were in trouble the day the Hurricane Irma was scheduled because of the nor’easter. It was already flooding in our front yard and we haven’t even had the hurricane on us yet.”
The city of Kingsland told the Gills it was their fault their home flooded in 2016 due to bathroom remodeling and did not install a toilet. Tex said they continued to fight the city on this issue, but came up empty.
“ I do not understand how we took on that much sewage water for a small back up,” said Tex.
This year, Tex said they took extra precautions and had a back-flow check valve installed. Tex had the city come out and approved the installation. The city manager and the waterworks superintendent told Tex that the valve would protect their home. However, their home backed up with sewage again that evening before Hurricane Irma entering the area.
“That proves that this would have happened again regardless instead of them pointing the finger at us we knew for a fact that we would have flooded regardless. It came up in all three of my bathtubs. I was using a 5-gallon bucket to keep it out of our house. Over and over again for hours. It was getting all over me and the house.
“Every time I was running through the house with the bucket. The city manager and the public works superintendent were sitting in their truck watching me run in and out of my home with this bucket,” said Tex.
Tex told the city officials on site that the water was coming in with such pressure that he was not able to minimize the flooding. The city made a drastic decision to dig up the sewer and cut their sewage line in half. This caused thousands of gallons of water to enter into Tex’s yard as well as the neighbors.
“The city made a drastic decision after they could not stop the water from coming into their home. The city pumped out manholes in the street near their home, but to no avail,” said Tex.
City officials did not inform the rest of the neighborhood that they were going to cut Tex’s line, but the city did remove residents’ sewage overflow caps to reduce in-house flooding. Tex described the scene as water fountains shooting up out of the ground and continued draining days after the flooding.
“Our house looked like a pond. There is definitely a drainage and sewer problem in our neighborhood,” said Tex
Cutting the line allowed for Tex to get his family to safety, but flooding continued throughout the storm. Tex stated their home is not in a designated flood zone.
Tex applied with FEMA for an application for Home Acquisition through GEMA and delivered the acquisition to the City of Kingsland. City Manager, Lee Spell, told Tex that his home would probably flood again.
“This is going to keep happening. Whether it is another family or me in the future,” said Tex.
The documentation –
AllOnGeorgia – Camden performed an Open Records request of the areas that flooded within the city dating back to 2013.
The records show that there was culvert replacement and prior work orders to mitigate and correct flooding and drainage issues. Areas of Kingsland that received the most work orders and maintenance was near Wolf Bay Circle and surrounding streets which were flooded with Hurricanes Matthew and Irma.
Several work orders show that some culverts near neighborhoods off Wolf Bay show that culverts were replaced over that time period. Other work orders about Wolf Bay state that the city has no easement to check and that the canals “ are flowing fine.”
Many of the work order details referred to other documents about the work in all of the areas citing a document stating “check A2 for details”. This document was consistently referenced in many feedback responses from workers.
Woodhaven Drive in Kingsland shows several requests to correct drainage issues. One resident stated in 2013 in her request that “flooding in the area is getting progressively worse and would like for someone to check the drainage in the area.” The feedback notes from the worker that the city went through the area and “skimmed in front of the culvert pipes and removed high spots in ditches”, but the work order also stated that the city “waiting on permits to come in.”
Several work orders in the Woodhaven area show cleanings of ditches at the requests of residents citing continued drainage problems.
A majority of the work orders show a significant amount of work hours for one street on ditch digging. Over on Wolf Bay, in 2014, a work order shows more the eight hours of ditch digging being logged.
Another area that flooded is Honeysuckle Rd in the Lakes. Out of all of the work orders dating back to 2013, one work order dated for July 2014 shows 20 hours of ditch cleaning. According to the Open Records request for this area, only five work orders were performed since 2013. Most of those orders dealt with drainage issue mitigation; however, much of the feedback in the reports indicate numbers and references to lettered documents outside of the work order obtain through Open Records requests.
One work order dated July 7, 2015, from a Woodhaven resident states the “drainage is worse than she’s ever seen it.” That worked order was followed up with ½ hour of work. The feedback states that this drainage concern was due to a heavy rain washing debris and limbs blocking the culverts. However, the work order never states what kind of work was completed to mitigate the problem. Such examples of documentation of the feedback within the work orders show similar findings.
Throughout all the work orders dated back to 2013, many of them show that culverts and plastic drainage pipes had collapsed resulting in drainage issues.
A majority of the maintenance logs show hours of work; however, flooding continued to be reported in these areas. In addition, beaver dams appear to be an issue that is contributing to the flooding, but it is not known as to how much flooding is attributed to beavers. The City Council did discuss an ordinance that would allow property owners to rid beavers of their property using a firearm under an approved city permit.
AllOnGeorgia – Camden called and emailed city officials to meet about what the work order documentation meant. In addition, AllOnGeorgia wanted to ask further questions about engineering guidelines that govern the replacement of collapsed plastic pipes, but the city manager did not return our emails or phone calls.
A solution –
AllOnGeorgia -Camden followed up with Tex and Tracy Gill about the progress with the city. Tracy Gill stated they discovered their home flooded four times prior to their first flooding during Hurricane Matthew. The home flooded between 1990 and 2002. The previous flooding consisted of sewer back up and a multitude of sewer drainage issues near Wolf Bay Circle. Since the current flooding of their home by Irma’s rainfall, their Wolf Bay home flooded a total of six times since being built.
Tracy Gill also told AllOnGeorgia – Camden that during the last two decades , former Mayor Keith Dixon authorized the clean up of sewer flooding in the home.
Currently, the Gills are waiting on Kingsland’s City Council to vote on a property acquisition application managed by Georgia Emergency Management Agency. The application is to help the city acquire the Gills’ property due to now being designated as a “flood-prone home.” The decision of the council is either to assume the home and possibly condemn for green space or to elevate the home. Tracy Gill stated that the application allows for $17,000 or 5 percent of the home’s value to go toward the acquisition of the property. Gill stated the city is working with them and “I am praying they vote yes” on November 13th at the council meeting. The City’s vote would match 15 percent of what FEMA will toward the demolishing of the Gills’ home or for elevation.
A similar case in Greensboro, GA occurred in 2015 where a couple continued to show there was consistent flooding of their home. According to that court ruling by the Georgia Supreme Court, the landowners’ letters were sufficient to put the city on notice based on the claim of a continuing nuisance on their property caused by the city’s water-drainage system – the city’s sovereign immunity was waived in the Greensboro case.