Council Hears from Flood Victims

After hearing from more than a dozen residents of the 3800 block of Southwestern St., the West University Place City Council on Monday directed Interim City Manager Chris Peifer and city staff to begin working with engineers in an attempt to alleviate flooding problems on the city’s lowest-lying street.

Phil McIntosh, a resident of the 3800 block of Southwestern, told the council that he and his neighbors have had repeated flooding of their homes — including three to four inches of water after strong storms in West U on April 17 and Memorial Day weekend.

On behalf of his neighbors, McIntosh asked why drainage improvements from a city flood control effort in 2005-06 were never implemented on the 3800 block of Southwestern. Instead of installing four storm drains and a new sewer line on the street, the city installed only two storm drains, McIntosh complained.

“The main problem is that the original plans in 2005-06 were never implemented,” McIntosh said. “Therefore, some of the flooding issues are still happening now.”

Representatives of HDR Engineering, which took over the engineering firm of Claunch & Miller that had worked for the city of West U, explained that all of the planned drainage improvements were not fully funded by the Harris County Flood Control District.

HDR Engineer David Hunt said, “We’ve been researching this and we see the problem. It’s a tough fix. One of the most obvious things were could do is install (drainage) inlets on Southwestern St., on the right side of College.”

That would remove some of the “sheet flow” from Southwestern during periods of heavy rainfall.

Hunt said that solution “would help” — except in cases of more serious storms.

About nine houses on Southwestern were flooded during the Memorial Day storms.

Councilman Burt Ballanfant said the concerns of the residents of Southwestern St. need to be carefully studied by hydrologists and engineers.

“I don’t think anyone here in this room tonight has the answer,” Ballanfant said.

At his suggestions, the council directed Peifer and city staff to study possible solutions to the problems on Southwestern. In the meantime, the staff will study the costs and benefits of adding to storm drains to the street.

“You seem to be suggesting two new storm drains can be done relatively cheaply and relatively soon,” McIntosh said. “We just want the work done.”

In other action, the council on Monday approved a 15 percent pay raise for Peifer and authorized the city staff to prepare a request for proposals from executive search firms, in the wake of the termination two weeks ago of former City Manager Michael Ross.

Peifer was named Interim City Manager on August 10, and his raise will be backdated to that day. Because of his additional duties, Peifer will earn $170,000 annually. The former Assistant City Manager and Director of Public Works has been employed by the city of West U for nine years.

The council also approved several new contracts for West U city employees health, dental, vision and disability insurance, after hearing recommendations from Bof Treacy, of Gallagher Benefits Consultants. The city is switching from Aetna to Blue Cross Blue Shield, because Aetna’s premiums were going to increase by about 39.4 percent, Treacy said.

The city’s new contract for health insurance will increase by 6 percent with the Blue Cross Blue Shield contract, and employee premiums will remain about the same, Treacy said.

In other action, the council appointed about 48 West U residents to serve on a variety of city boards and commissions, including the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board and the Friends of West U Parks, the Zoning and Planning Commission, the Building and Standards Commission, the Zoning Board of Adjustment and the Solid Waste Reduction and Recycling Board.

At the end of the meeting, Councilman Brennan Reilly said that he wants the council to proceed with naming a new Citizens Task Force to review the city’s long-term plan for Municipal Facilities. Reilly asked that be added to the council’s next meeting agenda.

“I would like to at least start taking applications for the Facilities Master Planning Task Force,” Reilly  said. “We need to start sooner, rather than later, er or later, if we are going to do this before Thanksgiving.”