Metro-East News

Granite City drainage couldn’t handle heavy rain from storm, mayor says

Flood in Granite City home

A sewer backup damaged a Granite City home's basement on August 12, 2019, during rainstorms. This was one of about 500 homes in the city that suffered some kind of damage from the storms. Lisa Nelan discusses the drainage problem.
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A sewer backup damaged a Granite City home's basement on August 12, 2019, during rainstorms. This was one of about 500 homes in the city that suffered some kind of damage from the storms. Lisa Nelan discusses the drainage problem.

When an estimated 9 1/2 inches of rain dumped on Granite City earlier this month, streets turned into rivers and homes were flooded in a freakish storm.

Not long after, the blame game started.

Residents and politicians made accusations of unused pumps, faulty sewers and drainage system and inaction by Granite City officials and the Metro East Sanitary District as residents and city workers dealt with the aftermath.

But Granite City Mayor Ed Hagnauer, said it just simply rained too much, and the system couldn’t handle it.

“I would never have expected this but until you’ve seen what 9 1/2 inches does you don’t really know how to prepare for it,” he said. “I don’t know if our system would ever be prepared for it.”

For the past week, Granite City has worked overtime to get residents and businesses who were affected by the flash flooding back on their feet. As of now, cleaning up the mess is the city’s top priority.

Since the Aug. 12 downpout, the area has received two more large rainstorms, coming on Wednesday and Thursday.

Hagnauer said it isn’t clear how many people were affected, but more than 800 residents attended an information meeting held in the city last weekend.

For some, the damage has been minimal, but for others, it was “life-changing,” Hagnauer said. Many residents were and still are dealing with 2-3 inches of backed-up sewage in their homes, and some residents have had to leave their homes altogether.

Hagnauer said at a maximum, Granite City’s drainage systems could handle three inches of rain, but not much more. So when 9 ½ fell, he said there wasn’t much that could be done. That’s after the city’s $11 million upgrades to the system about seven years ago.

He said all pumps were running during the three-hour span and that rumors that they weren’t functioning were unfounded.

“They just can’t handle that amount of rain,” he said.

Residents like Lisa Nela, whose basement flooded with more than 3 feet of sewage and rainwater, were left frustrated and called on Granite City leaders to fix the city’s drainage problems.

Her home is one of about 500 in the city that received some damage during the storm, according to Kathy Moore of Mayor Ed Hagnauer’s office.

“We lost 95 percent of its contents, including things from both our childhoods, things from others who are no longer with us,” Nelan said.

Rhonda Conner and her fiance Glenn Banks’s residence on Edison Avenue was flooded. The apartment, which is in the building’s basement, had water up to the light switches on the walls.

Conner said her home is still unlivable, adding to the stress of losing several boxes of family keepsakes and losing her job from the amount of time she had to take off from work. She said clean up isn’t an option for her and her fiance and that the current goal is finding a new place to live.

“I wish the city would just help and fix the dang sewers so this won’t happen again,” she said.

Conner said she thinks the city should have done more to prevent something like this from happening. On Friday, she said she still hadn’t heard back from the city and the funds that were given to her family by the Red Cross for a hotel were running thing.

“My fiance went to the (meeting) but it wasn’t helpful,” she said. “We don’t need help with clean up, we need a place to live and to replace our belongings.”

Hagnauer said frustration is normal in a situation like this but added he was sure the city did all it could and is continuing to do so. He said the city is frustrated, too, because there was no way to plan ahead for the flooding.

“We expect them to be frustrated and we are, too. We don’t like to see this; we spent the money to keep things up and running,” he said.

A true look into what problems the system might have had hasn’t taken place yet because of all the fallout from the rain, Hagnauer noted. He said there hasn’t been enough time with recovery and clean up operations.

“We’ve been so focused on trying to help people that we really haven’t been able to sit down with our engineers and go over if there might be some places we need to address,” he said.

Political blame

Citizens haven’t been the only critics of the flash flooding. Last week, blame was directed at the Metro East Sanitary District by Madison County Board member Mike Parkinson during a meeting of the MESD board. Parkinson, a Granite City Democrat, said the district’s “lack of action” played a large part in the flooding, the Edwardsville Intelligencer reported.

Steve Adler, executive director of MESD, said the flooding wasn’t due to a lack of action on their part, but because of complicated infrastructure. He said older sections of the city have two joint sewer systems that drain to the city’s water treatment plant and because of that, there were backups.

“It’s about engineering, it’s not about politics,” Adler said. “They have a narrative they’re trying to portray, and the truth has little to do with it.”

The MESD board is currently in flux after Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed legislation that changes the board’s appointing process. Due to that, Hagnauer is expected to join the MESD Board, something Madison County Republicans are calling a power grab.

Madison County Board Chairman Kurt Prenzler, in a social media post, said politics would turn MESD into a “political football.”

“MESD has done an outstanding job during the past two years,” said Prenzler, a Republican. “It’s a shame that it’s become a political football.”

Cleanup efforts

Since the flooding, the city has hosted a town meeting, hired four cleaning companies to go to homes that were affected, and sent insurance agents throughout town to help residents with claims.

The Southern Baptist Convention Disaster Relief Team, an organization that has volunteers who help clean up after disasters like this, started work Thursday.

Almost all of the city’s aldermen lauded the efforts of the mayor and city workers in their cleanup efforts as well. The flood was discussed during a committee meeting before Tuesday’s City Council meeting.

During that meeting, though, Hagnauer said the city was working to make sure that every resident and business report their losses and damages due to concerns the city may not meet an Illinois Emergency Management Agency disaster threshold for financial assistance.

The amount the city needs to reach was not immediately available.

The city applied for a natural disaster proclamation last week. The mayor said that every individual who has had damage needs to make sure they come forward for the good of the city.

The road to recovery in Granite City will be a long one, Hagnauer said, but it has been done before. He said it isn’t the first time the city has gone through a disaster.

“We’ll get back to normal, eventually,” he said. “We’ve pulled through before. This is one where it’s going to take a little bit longer.”

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