Lot will provide space for a retention pond; $155,000 EPA grant will aid in studying entire watershed holistically
SOMERSET, KENTUCKY (April 12, 2021) — In response to historic rains that caused significant damage to homes downtown, Somerset City Council members voted Monday to purchase property on Richards Court in order to make stormwater improvements.
The city will purchase 202 Richards Court for $92,300, with the intention of building a retention pond on the lot that will create more stormwater storage. Mayor Alan Keck said he is also working with two other property owners on Richards Court to determine how the city can best help them address flooding challenges.
“We believe firmly this will allow for drastic improvements in this area,” Keck said. Instead of tearing down the house on the property immediately, Keck said the city will attempt to sell the house and allow the buyer to move it off the property. Once the house is gone, the entire lot will be used for stormwater retention.
The storm that moved through Feb. 28 caused large-scale flooding in Somerset, Pulaski County and in several areas across Kentucky, damaging homes, roads and bridges. City crews and emergency service employees worked into the early morning hours setting barricades and helping residents from their homes and stranded vehicles.
In total, the city had 18 streets that were flooded at some point during the night. Damage assessment and cleanup continue more than a month later for some of these areas.
Comprehensive improvements to the entire watershed area began after a flood in 2019. At that time, the city engaged in several projects to make improvements in areas where habitual flooding occurred, including Chaudoin and North Richardson streets, Rebel and Evergreen drives and Rush Branch Road.
But Richards Court and Kennedy Street have continued to suffer due to their elevation and proximity to runoff.
Following the Feb. 28 storm, City of Somerset Engineer Aaron Dockery said the city began making improvements in the Richards Court area by dye tracing water to determine where it discharges.
“Through that study we determined water draining from Richards Court is discharging into Rocky Hollow Park,” Dockery said. “With that knowledge, we began formulating options on how to help improve flooding in this area that has persisted for decades.”
Purchasing the 202 Richards Court property is crucial to making comprehensive improvements, Keck said, as it is closest to the drainage system and needed to increase storage. But the city is also looking at the situation holistically, aided by a $155,000 federal grant Dockery and City Engineer Reggie Chaney pursued last year to create a comprehensive plan for the Lower Pitman Creek Watershed. The watershed area encompasses 50 square miles of urban and rural land that includes the majority of the Somerset city limits.
The city received the grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in December and the first phase is underway.
“This is the first time we’ve taken a holistic approach to looking at the City of Somerset as an entire watershed,” Keck said. “We’ve mapped it before, but we’ve looked at it on more of a micro-level instead of a macro-level. The hope is, through the course of this grant, we will be able to identify areas for improvement and use information gathered to apply for other grants that could potentially offset the cost of large stormwater projects.”
The grant, which spans four years and is a 60/40 federal to local match, has four goals:
- Collaborating with the Kentucky Division of Water (DOW) to monitor water quality and identify any bacteria present in the watershed. Two potential objectives at this level are to educate and encourage the public on proper septic system maintenance and identify any public sewer system areas in need of repair.
- Completing a watershed plan that follows EPA and DOW guidance. The plan will decrease sediment and stormwater runoff to waterways and major sinkholes within the watershed by redefining and reestablishing natural channels, implementing green infrastructure and reducing impervious surfaces. This will ultimately identify stormwater challenges that need further attention.
- Increasing public involvement by creating a local watershed planning committee to collect public thoughts and concerns regarding the current status of the watershed.
- Hiring a watershed coordinator, a new position in the City of Somerset to manage work in the watershed. This would include community outreach, environmental education and public meetings, in coordination with the watershed council.
By purchasing the Richards Court property and pressing forward with the EPA grant, Keck said residents can expect major improvements to the city’s stormwater system.
“We remain committed to listening to the problems our residents are facing and remedying them to the best of our ability,” Keck said. “As I’ve stressed before, certain areas will simply never, no matter what we do, be able to handle the amount of water we received in such a short period of time last month because of their location. But there are long-term improvements we can make. It will take time and we greatly appreciate our residents’ patience as we work to enhance the entire watershed area.”