$1M to improve drainage in 2022 near Belvedere

$1M to improve drainage in 2022 near Belvedere
A crowd of residents amass at Belvedere Park #2 with Jacksonville City Councilwoman Randy Defoor of District 14.

Flooding in several areas of Riverside is nothing new, but now the city’s spending $1 million to improve drainage in the northwest section west of Riverside High School.

It was not necessarily enough for some residents in the area, who fear the Belvedere Avenue Drainage Improvement project may not help standing water on Challen Avenue during storms.

City Chief Engineer Robin Smith
City Chief Engineer Robin Smith

The residents, who declined to be quoted for this story during a meeting with the city’s chief engineer Robin Smith and City Councilwoman Randy Defoor at a nearby park on July 29, said multiple vehicles left parked on the street are destroyed annually and the wakes from passing vehicles during flood events push water into homes, requiring the use of sandbags.

“These poor people are getting their living rooms flooded,” one woman said.

Another frustrated resident even asked if the city could provide traffic barricades for her to put out when storms come through to prompt vehicles to turn around, rather than wade down Challen.

Mr. Smith said the city rents them as needed and doesn’t keep them on hand. “I wouldn’t recommend it,” advised the city engineer.

He said the city plans to enlarge drainage pipes and culverts that should increase the volume of water that can flow into the Willow Branch Park canal from the west, explained Mr. Smith during the public input meeting with about 50 concerned residents.

Mr. Smith said the drainage lines were surveyed for obstructions, and while some were found, including a shopping cart, they’ve been removed within the last year.

“As of today we have videoed the system and there are so significant blockages,” said the engineer, now in his third year in the position.

Jacksonville City Councilwoman Randy Defoor
Jacksonville City Councilwoman Randy Defoor

Councilwoman Defoor said she grew up on Avondale Circle so she’s intimately aware of the flooding challenges in the neighborhood. She committed to mounting a push for more drainage improvements should the $1 million Belvedere project not provide significant improvement.

The project is in the design phase and it’s expected to go to bid in October with completion next year.

“The positive thing is we’re going to have something come from this,” she the District 14 council representative. “This is not just talk. I’m not a talker, I’m a doer, so we’ll figure this thing out. If [Challen] is not a part of this, then we’ll have a separate one.”

She described the flooding problems in the area as partly the result of sea-level rise and climate change while the engineer noted that most of the stormwater management system for Riverside and Avondale is also a century-old now.

“When they designed these storm systems a hundred years ago, they were designing them for daily rain. They weren’t getting the kinds of storms we’re getting now and there wasn’t the density around the neighborhood to compound the issue … It would be hundreds of millions of dollars to replace the whole system. So we have to try to find problems we can address that have the most impact. Replacing this pipe is going to impact this whole side of the [Willowbranch] canal.”

Residents said flooding problems have grown increasingly worse in the last few years, particularly since Hurricane Irma damaged so much the neighborhood in 2017. Some of it is still being repaired today.

Six-year Avondale Avenue resident Matt Wolfe, who’s been in the neighborhood for more than 36 years, said the frequency of standing water after storms and home and vehicle damage residents experience now is unparalleled.

“I had never had an [rain] event when there have been kayaks going down the road. But in the last five years, I’ve had two events when people kayak up and down Avondale Avenue,” he observed.

By Joel Addington
Resident Community News

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