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A political torrent?

Fear and Loathing in Waynesboro column by Chris Graham

I’m sensing more fear than loathing regarding the upcoming News Virginian special report on stormwater issues.

I’ve been getting e-mails the past couple of days from residents who assume that the NV is going to take a partisan rather than evenhanded approach to reporting on the stormwater problem.

“That May 17 article ‘Stormwater info runs dry’ where Jimmy (LaRoue, an NV staff writer) said that the ponds just need to be maintained (or something like that) sounded very Lucente-ish,” one resident wrote me, and upon looking at the archives, I think we may be on to something there.

“Since voters backed the bond last fall in a non-binding referendum, we have discovered that the more we learn about the city’s stormwater problem the less we know. Specifically, we are interested in understanding the extent to which the system’s deficiencies are attributable to want of maintenance or to lack of needed infrastructure. Those two causes lie at the end of extremes: maintenance in the world of stormwater can be dirty but relatively inexpensive work; infrastructure is costly.”

The funny thing about this is – I’m wondering if this might not be related to my endorsement interview with the NV during the city-council campaign. And no, I don’t think the world revolves around me. Give me a second to explain. I made it a point on the campaign trail to say that it bothered me to have learned that we don’t know for sure what Invista is or isn’t doing to mitigate stormwater runoff, in the face of the company’s claims that it has been and is taking care of whatever runoff it otherwise would be contributing to the problem that we are facing citywide. I remember bringing this up during my endorsement interview, and NV editor Lee Wolverton and I had a nice discussion of issues around the periphery there.

It could be that Wolverton was already dreaming up a special investigation into the stormwater issue, and I wasn’t aware of it then. I’ll concede that. But I’ll say that he didn’t seem to know anything about what I was talking about with respect to the lack of confirmation on the part of the city regarding what Invista is or isn’t doing relative to its stormwater runoff.

My point was that I felt (and still do feel) that we need to have more answers to the stormwater problem before we tell people that we have a handle on how much the work is going to cost. That’s all I was questioning back during the campaign – the cost issue. Outside of that, it’s abundantly clear that every study that has been done in recent years has demonstrated that the current stormwater infrastructure simply doesn’t have the capacity to handle water flows that are unfortunately common in heavy rainstorms and other mass-precipitation events.

Short of hiring independent engineering experts to literally stick their heads in the ground to check this maintenance theory and then run numbers based on our current capacity and water flows during different-sized rain events to see how much water we can take and how much ends up overflowing into backyards and basements, the isn’t going to be able to add too much to the public discourse other than more conjecture. Because no, just because they can quote Frank Lucente saying he’s looked at it and run the numbers, and things don’t add up, that doesn’t make it true.

I mean, I give Lucente credit for being a pretty smart guy, but he’s a hot-dog salesman, not a PE.