The problem with flooding in Troy in a nutshell
It was the early 1990s and Troy’s population was booming.
Developers did what developers do and built homes for newcomers. Conveniently located close to three interstates, the city’s population more than doubled from 1980 to 1990 as Troy became a bedroom community for St. Louis commuters, according to Madison Historical.
Nobody really thought about stormwater control at the time. Troy didn’t appear on any flood maps and sits well above the Mississippi River.
In the late 1990s, construction on the Taylor Lake Estates subdivision began. City regulations at the time didn’t strictly outline how developers built their subdivisions to control stormwater.
No one predicted the development would some day cause city taxpayers to spend thousands of dollars to fix flooding problems with a new pipe and, oddly enough, building a new patio at a private residence.
But that’s what’s happening.
“The city would normally not do a patio improvement at a private residence,” Troy Mayor Allen Adomite said. “Unorthodox, absolutely, but there isn’t any other way to solve it.”
As the 1990s came to a close, upper middle class homes popped up around a man-made lake on former farmland. A second iteration of the neighborhood was built slightly to the south along a line of existing homes. That’s where problems would begin for the city and for homeowners.
Homeowners in the southern portion of the neighborhood would go on to face more than 15 years of backyard flooding before it all came to a head with a series of exceptional storms in 2016.
Connie Seneczyn had no idea she would deal with flooding in her backyard when she moved into her home on Burlington Drive in the early 2000s. Her home isn’t even on the lake, but on the block just to the south.
Seneczyn’s backyard is essentially a large ditch. The elevation of the homes behind hers is higher and sits up on top of a small hill. Her home is slightly elevated, but the basement sits below the level of the ditch.
It’s not exactly clear where the ditch came from, the mayor said. It could have been an existing drainage ditch for the farmland that predated the subdivision.
Regardless, the ditch has flooded “regularly” over the years, bringing mosquitoes in addition to water, Seneczyn said, and making it practically unusable for her family and grandchildren. One of her next-door neighbors deals with even worse flooding. They keep sandbags in their backyard.
A string of major storms in 2016 were the final straw for residents, but they didn’t know how to fix the problem, Seneczyn said.
“I went to the city of Troy because it’s not something individual residents can really fix,” Seneczyn said. “It’s out of our control.”
What followed was two years of negotiations, engineering studies and quibbling over solutions — a process that ended with a final decision, a decision that was met with controversy.
A big pipe and a patio
When developers built the subdivision, they only built one stormwater drainage pipe to the man-made lake. To solve the flooding problem for Burlington Drive residents, the city discovered it needed to build another pipe to double the capacity of stormwater outflow.
The existing pipe drains into the private lake, which is owned and managed by the homeowners on its shores. A new pipe would help direct the overflow to the lake instead of getting stuck in backyards on Burlington Drive, an engineering study showed.
For a grand total of just under $234,000, this would surely be the city’s solution.
But sending more water to the lake would naturally raise its levels, effectively transferring the flooding problem from Burlington Drive to a single low-lying home on the lake at 356 Old Homestead Drive.
The easiest solution, the mayor said, would be to lower the level of the lake. The homeowners on the lake rejected that idea. It would mean filling in exposed ground with rock or another buffer, as the homeowners had already done at their own expense, and it would decrease its aesthetic appeal.
The city had to defer to the lake homeowners because they own and manage the lake. The city had to look for another solution.
One was building a 2-foot wide berm behind the house on Old Homestead, essentially creating a levee between the backyard and the lake. But that would be expensive, costing as much as $30,000, according to an engineering study. It would also require a pump or a flap-gate to direct water from the backyard to the lake. Those devices require maintenance.
But what if the city simply raised the level of the patio at 356 Old Homestead, the only home affected by potential flooding? Building up the concrete by about 8 inches would put it out of reach of a rising lake and the city would incur a one-time cost of $17,180 for the project, the mayor said.
The homeowners agreed. They declined an interview for this story.
If the city didn’t pay to build the patio, it would put them at risk for a lawsuit, Adomite said. This was the cheapest, one-time solution the city could find.
City governments normally avoid projects that benefit individual residents on their private property, at taxpayers’ expense, Adomite acknowledged. But the developer of the subdivision is long gone and the engineer who designed it is dead, Adomite said, so it falls to the city to do something about the flooding.
“It’s what you do for your residents,” the mayor said.
City Council members unanimously approved the pipeline-patio project at their most recent meeting. The work could be done before the end of the year, depending on weather.
The homeowners at 356 Old Homestead will sign off on a waiver of liability to ensure they can’t blame the city for future flooding problems down the line, Adomite said.
Planning for future stormwater control
Problems beyond Taylor Lake Estates could continue to be a problem as increasingly intense storms hit the region, said Steven Brendel, stormwater coordinator for Madison County. He works with communities and residents to help identify and solve stormwater issues
It’s not clear whether climate change causes the storms, Brendel said, but weather patterns have changed in the area in the past decade. Developers and municipalities alike have to think about drainage in a way they didn’t before, Brendel said.
“We didn’t have the knowledge back at that time that we’ve got now. Nobody 15 to 20 years ago thought about the water issues we’re having now,” Brendel said. “It’s the intense storms where we get four or five inches of rain in a short amount of time. It overwhelms the infrastructure that’s there.”
In May 2017, Troy City Council members approved a stormwater drainage ordinance. Future home developers will have to adhere to that ordinance to prevent flooding.
But the city’s problems are far from over. Next on the list is the Fair Oaks neighborhood, where rushing stormwater has created a small ravine where there previously wasn’t one between homes.
That project will have to wait until next year, at the earliest, the mayor said.