By Debbie Adams
The Town of Vinton is participating in this year’s virtual Prepareathon, a national event sponsored by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Roanoke City, Roanoke County, and the Town of Vinton have partnered to facilitate a four-part series of “Tuesday Talks” during National Preparedness Month in September. Each program highlights the importance of flood preparedness and flood mitigation strategies.
On Sept. 15, Vinton’s Principal Planner Nathan McClung, along with Butch Workman, Stormwater Operations Manager for Roanoke County, discussed Flood Mitigation Projects in Roanoke County and Vinton. McClung administers the local floodplain ordinance and completes the annual Community Rating System (CRS) recertification for the town.
McClung described two completed Midway Flood Damage Mitigation projects. The Midway community is located in the northwest corner of Vinton, bordered by Glade Creek and Tinker Creek. Most of the residences in Midway are in the “flood fringe.”
“Before this project, flooding in various neighborhoods in the Midway community was a recurrent problem with many residences incurring flood damage on numerous separate occasions over the past 25 years, most recently heavy flooding in April 1992,” McClung said.
The Midway project included two specific activities to mitigate against future flood damage and losses. Project Activity No. 1 (completed in March 2001) involved the Backwater Flood Control Valve on a Norfolk Southern Corp. Railroad Culvert.
“The box culvert is close to the streambank of Glade Creek at the Walnut Street Bridge and conveys streamflow from suburban drainage areas including the Midway community,” said McClung. “In the past, when Glade Creek reached flood stage and left its bank, water would pond on both sides of Walnut Avenue. When the water reached the box culvert, it was allowed to flow through to the opposite side of the railroad tracks onto Tinker Avenue and into the low-lying area adjacent to Tinker Avenue. The backwater caused damage to the houses and property in this area.”
By installing a backwater flood control valve at the box culvert, storm drainage is allowed to drain out, but backflow from Glade Creek is stopped – protecting the low area along Tinker Avenue.
The second Midway project included the acquisition and removal of residential structures from the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) Floodway.
“There were 11 residential structures (nine occupied and two vacant), and also one storage building and seven vacant lots adjacent to these 11 residential structures that were located in the floodway as defined by the NFIP rate maps,” McClung noted. “Some of these structures were as close as 20 yards to the streambank of Glade Creek. These structures were susceptible to greater damage due to high-velocity flood flow, which causes debris impact damage as well as water damage.”
This second project was completed in June 1999, by the voluntary acquisitions of seven vacant lots and acquisitions and removal of seven residential properties that were located in the floodways of Tinker Creek and Glade Creek. By removing these structures from the floodways, the areas have been converted to natural use and serve as a vegetative stream buffer.
“There is still work to be done, even a major heavy rain event in June of this year caused flooding that damaged a few residences in this neighborhood,” McClung said.
In another flood mitigation project, the Town of Vinton purchased three properties in the spring of 2005 that were located in the NFIP Special Flood Hazard Areas inundated by 100-year flood and the floodway area. The properties were zoned GB-General Business District. One was a vacant lot of about 5.5 acres located at the confluence of Tinker and Glade Creeks, which had been for sale for nine years.
Two tenant-occupied residential structures built in the 1950s were located adjacent to Tinker Creek, at the intersection of Walnut Avenue and 5th Street, which experiences frequent flooding during heavy rainfall events.
“The Town of Vinton purchased these properties and the existing structures were demolished in September 2005,” McClung explained. “The town rezoned the properties to ‘Public Open Space’ District from General Business District and converted the land to natural use as a vegetative stream buffer. By acquiring these three properties that adjoin Glade and Tinker Creeks, the potential flood damage in the vicinity of the low water bridge located at the intersection of Glade Creek and Walnut Avenue has been reduced, and future flood damages and claims from these residential structures have been mitigated.
“The old saying of in some cases of the ‘pen being mightier than the sword’ bears true for the next subject of conservation,” said McClung. “Although many mitigation projects that were discussed involve hard costs relating to demolition and bulldozers and engineered devices, the mitigation efforts related to public outreach and education are equally as important.” The main program involving Roanoke County, the City of Roanoke, and the Town of Vinton in public outreach and education is the Community Rating System (CRS).
The CRS is a voluntary, incentive-based community program that recognizes, encourages, and rewards local floodplain management activities that exceed the minimum standards of the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). The Town of Vinton joined the CRS program in 2016.
Currently, Vinton and Roanoke County are classified as Class 8 in the CRS system, which allows residents 10 percent off their flood insurance premiums due to the town participating in the CRS program. Roanoke County was the first to join in Virginia. Roanoke City has a Class 7 rating, with residents eligible to receive 15 percent off their premiums.
“Even though 10 to 15 percent may sound like a drop in the bucket, when you look at the aggregate savings across an entire locality, it becomes substantial,” McClung said. “Also, some industrial properties may be saving thousands of dollars per year on their flood insurance premiums.”
The town is “striving to earn a Class 7 rating,” partnering with neighboring localities in flood mitigation projects, he said.
McClung described another project “in the pipeline,” using FEMA Pre-Disaster Mitigation Grants through the Virginia Department of Emergency Management (VDEM) for fiscal year 2020-2021. This grant would enable the town to purchase 15 parcels located in the floodplain.
“The purpose of the project is to improve the living conditions for all those living in the West Cedar Village neighborhood through the provision of property acquisition and residential relocation activities as well as property clearance,” McClung said. “The proposed project calls for the acquisition and demolition of 19 housing units, including two triplexes and 13 mobile homes. It requires the voluntary permanent relocation of 19 households.
“All acquisitions by the town will be accomplished via willing sellers,” McClung continued. “Acquisition and relocation activities will begin in the spring of 2021. No West Cedar Village neighborhood resident will be displaced from their home until they have been provided a decent, safe and sanitary relocation resource.”
The total cost of the West Cedar Village project is estimated at $898,956.
During the presentation, Workman detailed stream and floodplain restoration projects in or near the Town of Vinton. Phase I of the Glade Creek/Vinyard Park project in 2016 involved 2,740 feet along the stream restored at a cost of $1.4 million. Phase II in 2019 restored an additional 2,200 feet at a cost of $844,900. Anticipated for 2021 is the restoration of 900 feet along Wolf Creek in Goode Park at a cost of $600,000.
For more information on flood insurance, the Community Rating System (CRS) community benefits, and floodplain risk and regulations, contact Nathan McClung at [email protected].