West Columbia home on the edge of disaster

tflach@thestate.comAugust 16, 2013 

— Rain is putting the Allen family home in West Columbia on the edge of catastrophe.

Extraordinary downpours this summer have created fast-flowing rivers of storm water in their front yard, eroding it so much that a ditch once yards away now is a step or two from the residence.

“It’s a few feet from disaster,” Mayor Joe Owens said. “They’re one good rain from that house going in.”

City officials and state legislators are seeking to correct the problem, saying it stems from inadequate drainage in the neighborhood.

Everyone agrees the upkeep of the road that overflows into the Allens’ yard is the responsibility of the state transportation agency. But an immediate fix for the Allens may not happen, amid disagreement over what to do.

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State officials are reluctant to take on responsibility for a drainage problem common on many roads.

Erosion has left pipes into the ditch visible in the yard while officials search for a solution that chief Midlands road engineer Thad Brunson says will be complex.

The home is at the bottom of a watershed emptying into the lower Saluda River, putting it at a “very at-risk location,” he said.

Ripping up the road to put in drainage able to handle larger amounts of storm runoff may not be the answer, he said, noting it’s expensive to install something big enough for bursts of rain that happen rarely, he said.

The Allens placed sandbags across their yard on Natchez Trail as protection against another washout .

Everyone is crossing their fingers that rain this weekend doesn’t worsen the situation.

Repeated storms in July washed away $10,000 the Allens spent for improvements that rebuilt the yard, after erosion first occurred in 2009.

No one is certain why the drainage problem has become so much worse decades after the home was built, although city officials suspect it may stem from increased development upstream on Sunset Boulevard a few blocks south.

It may simply be the result of rare sets of heavy storms, Brunson said.

Meanwhile, her home of 38 years has become a nightmare for owner Sue Allen, 69.

“This experience has been very traumatic,” she said. “It is truly more than I can handle.”

The problem has eased after removal of debris in one street drain across from the home, she said.

Some West Columbia officials and local legislators want repairs soon to protect the home while a permanent fix likely to extend into the entire neighborhood is pondered.

Providing quick help to the Allens is vital even though settling on a solution may take months, said State Rep. Kenny Bingham, a Cayce Republican who is an engineer familiar with water and sewer projects.

“It’s something that can’t be taken lightly,” said State Sen. Nikki Setzler, D-West Columbia. “What she is facing is unbelievable.”

Reach Flach at (803) 771-8483.

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