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Editorial: Huntington needs storm water improvements

Jul. 27, 2013 @ 11:30 PM

Last Monday was a rough day for Cabell County EMS director Gordon Merry and his team.

A truck wreck on Interstate 64 snarled traffic for much of the day, heavy rains caused some of the worst street flooding of the year and late in the afternoon a nude man stole a Cabell EMS ambulance.

"The rain, the tractor-trailer wreck on the interstate that made traffic worse on U.S. 60, the traffic through downtown and the flooding on top of that ... it was a very, very challenging day," Merry said.

Most of that chaos was not something anyone could anticipate -- especially the ambulance "getaway" and the subsequent crash.

But the street flooding is another matter.

With enough heavy rain, residents know it is coming, and they know where -- 3rd, 4th and 5th Avenues between 20th and 26th streets and the underpasses at 8th and 10th Streets, just to name a few regular problem areas. On a bad day, the combination makes it impossible to get across town, affecting thousands of motorists and emergency vehicles, as well.

Huntington has suffered this long enough, and it is time to determine what can be done to improve the drainage and start working on a fix.

That is not easy because the street flooding is just part of the city's storm water problem, which stems from aging infrastructure and years of inaction. Much of Huntington's sewer system includes lines that carry both storm water and sewage. That situation not only creates hazardous overflow during heavy rains, but also has prompted fines from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. However, estimates on building a whole new system to separate the lines range from $500 million to $1 billion.

Trying to come up with a plan to repair everything right away is unrealistic. But doing nothing is not acceptable either.

Mayor Steve Williams last week announced plans to roll out a comprehensive storm water plan in the fall that will likely include a fee. In the plan, he hopes to prioritize capital projects, preventative measures and maintenance to help reduce the runoff and street flooding. Then hopefully the city can seek grants and creative solutions to address the larger projects.

In other words, let's try to eat the elephant one piece at a time.

That makes sense, and we think the community will support a fee if residents see some measurable results.

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