The city of Highland has submitted its plan to CSX railroad to modify or replace a culvert underneath the track at Poplar Street, an idea the city thinks may arrest the plan for expansion of areas to be designated by federal government at high risk for flooding.
The Highland City Council approved a preliminary agreement with the CSX railroad at its meeting Aug. 7 where the city has to pay CSX $11,550 for its engineers to review the plan.
“It was $11,000 we had to send them just to open a dialogue,” said Lisa Peck, Highland’s assistant city manager.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency is currently drafting new flood maps for Highland in its Map Modernization Program. The agency periodically updates its flood maps to take into account new developments, changes in topography, etc., and how changes may alter areas considered to be a greater risk for flooding.
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Preliminary map updates for Highland show the Special Flood Hazard Area as potentially being tripled since the maps were last updated in 1986.
If that were to happen, the end result of the program could have a terrible impact on the community, city leaders said. Property owners finding their land and buildings in the new floodplain would be required to purchase flood insurance at increased rates. Also, new structures built within the area would be subject to new building standards that would add large costs to and could discourage future development.
David Oates, the president of Oates Associates, the engineering firm hired by the city to come up with a plan to deal with FEMA, first presented the study at the Highland City Council meeting July 17. He said engineers noticed the flood area north of a culvert underneath the CSX railroad crossing on Poplar Street had almost tripled in the new flood map drafts. On further examination, it was found that the target culvert had been altered at some unknown point in time and the culvert opening now cuts the volume of water able to pass through it by half, according to Oates.
Currently, the city is pursuing two options. The first and most expensive route would replace the culvert with two 12-by-10-foot culverts, costing about $1 million, just for construction. The second route is inserting six, 48-inch pipes above the existing culvert while leaving it in place, estimated to cost about $500,000.
The Oates engineers told the city that completing theses projects should restore the flood plain to its original elevation by letting more water pass through in the event of a flood.
The project must be funded 100 percent by the city. The city would also have to pay to ensure that rail traffic could continue during construction. However, what facilitating train traffic would cost the city is unknown. City Manager Mark Latham said the project will be paid for using TIF funds.
Railroad approval needed
Highland is located on the CSX St. Louis Subdivision. Trains transport a variety of freight for customers through the area, including general merchandise, coal and automobiles.
Before construction can begin, the city must receive approval from the railroad.
Once that happens, the city “will be moving as fast as we possibly can,” Peck said.
The city will need to move fast to beat FEMA’s map implementation. The new flood maps could be finalized in 2018 or 2019. An exact time line has yet to be determined.
Rob Doolittle, the assistant vice president for CSX media and communications, said the railroad frequently works with local governments on infrastructure projects across its 23-state network.
“Maintaining infrastructure is pivotal to the safety of our operations both for our customers and for the communities we serve. In addition to local government entities, infrastructure improvement projects may involve multiple units of government at the county, state and federal levels,” Doolittle said. “The city of Highland is the lead on the project. CSX is reviewing and commenting on plans as requested.”
Residents give feedback
Many Highland citizens and business owners attended a public meeting Aug. 9, where the city presented options available to the public. One of the main questions on the table was whether or not altering the culvert would cause a problem for the south side of the city by letting more water through.
“It sounds like the problem is on the north side of the tracks, and they are trying to bring the problem to the south side of the city,” said Robert Mauer, a Highland resident with multiple properties south of the CSX tracks.
Oates, the city’s engineer, said that even with widening the culvert, the flood plain height would stay lower than it is currently recorded by FEMA.
While some residents were skeptical of Oates’ calculations, this was sweet news to Daniel Delaney, who lives south of the tracks. Delaney was forced to buy flood insurance in the past, which cost him and extra $1,200 a year, he said. But at the meeting, he learned his house might not longer be in the flood plain.
“They are doing a good job,” Delaney said. “They are keeping us informed, and I think they are going to do what it takes to ratify this problem.”
Monica Rehkemper, the owner of Tri Ford in Highland, has three parcels in the flood plain, both north and south of the tracks. Though Rehkemper said she felt torn on whether or not the changes would help the situation, she said she was happy that the city was looking out for its citizens.
“I’m just happy the city is taking the first step and trying to help,” Rehkemper said.
For anyone who missed the public meeting, the maps presented by Oates will be on display at the city’s Building and Zoning Department. The city also has comment sheets for the people they suspect might be in the new flood plain. City officials would like those people to fill out the comment sheets and is collecting emails to keep in touch with the property owners as new developments occur.