U.S. Senator Jon Ossoff visited Frank Bailey Senior Center Monday to announce a $2.6 million stormwater mitigation package for the Camp Creek watershed.

Ossoff, who was joined by the Clayton County Board of Commissioners, said the funding will come from the Environmental Protection Agency “sometime this fiscal year.”

Riverdale homeowners who have lost thousands of dollars to repairing damaged driveways and flooded yards and homes since 2013 applauded the news.

“Flooding is not just a weather event,” Ossoff told the crowd of about 50 residents and county officials. “Flooding is a family event. Flooding is something that displaces people from their homes. I’ve got a 15-month-old baby daughter at home, and for all of the families across Clayton County with young kids, for all of the seniors in Clayton County who face displacement or financial distress from this flooding, that’s what this is about.”

Ossoff said the county had submitted “a very detailed proposal for construction and restoration of certain Camp Creek tributaries, drainage infrastructure, floodplain restoration….because of the county’s outstanding work, I was able to pass this through the Senate with bipartisan support, overwhelming support from Democrats and Republicans.” Homeowners broke into applause.

Riverdale residents whose homes have been repeatedly flooded by Camp Creek stormwater runoff since 2013 cheer U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff’s March 20, 2023 press conference announcing federal flood mitigation funding. The event took place at the Frank Bailey Senior Center. (Photo: Robin Kemp/The Clayton Crescent)

“This is part of a push I’m making across the state to improve water infrastructure,” Ossoff told the crowd. “To get lead pipes out of drinking water systems. To address flood risk for communities across the state of Georgia. And these issues impact urban, suburban, and rural communities alike. We have an aging water infrastructure that’s in need of upgrades. And that’s why when we wrote and passed the bipartisan infrastructure law in the Senate, I focused so much on ensuring that Georgia’s most urgent water infrastructure needs could be met.”

“We appreciate the effort to make sure that funding is provided to Clayton County,” Chairman Jeff Turner told The Clayton Crescent, “especially in the area of stormwater runoff, as it has had a great impact on flooding around the northwest area of Clayton County. A lot of citizens have been impacted by that flooding.”

Deputy Chief Operating Officer Landry Merkison said, “Our first priority will be to stop the flooding. And that’s going to have to happen in multiple segments of the Camp Creek watershed. It’s incredibly difficult for us right now to put a finger on ‘here’s our starting point,’ and we have engineers in the space that are already looking at it, we’re looking at our past studies, and we’re looking at what our current incidents and our current rainfall amounts are showing us. So where we will focus our efforts is how we stop the flooding, how do we stop the inundation into water, and then what will be our long-term solutions moving forward so that we can bring, finally, some resolve to an issue that’s been plaguing Clayton County for many years.”

Following the press conference, Merkison told The Clayton Crescent, “We’re waiting on the funding. We have some other funding that we’ve put with it, some reallocated CDBG funds, so we’ve kind of been doing a lot of the engineering work already in the background, so as soon as that money comes in from the EPA [Environmental Protection Agency], we’ll be ready to hit the ground running.”

Asked whether the engineers have taken into account increased stormwater runoff from recent development in Clayton County, Merkison said, “Well, in some of these area, it’s not development in the county that’s causing it, it’s development in neighboring counties that’s causing it. So you know, specifically, the Camp Road area from over on the west side of Commissioner [Gail] Hambrick’s district, there’s a lot of stuff coming out of South Fulton that’s causing some issues, so it’s not just development here. We can understand and mitigate development in Clayton. It’s the development we don’t know about that causes us the issues until we see the runoff from that development, so that’s a lot of what we’re trying to mitigate and repair damage from.”

Riverdale homeowner Diane Bryant smiles after meeting with U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff, who announced $2.6 million in stormwater mitigation funding for the Camp Creek watershed. Bryant and her neighbors have been fighting the shifting floodwaters since 2013. (Photo: Robin Kemp/The Clayton Crescent)

Clementine Haskins, who lives on Allen Court in Riverdale, said she and her neighbors have had to shell out thousands of dollars to repair damage from new flooding that started in 2013.

Diane Bryant’s home on Judy Lane, which Ossoff visited earlier Monday morning, has been one of the most severely affected. She shared photos of her backyard, which was nearly completely obliterated by floodwaters:

“I have had 28 truckloads of dirt brought in to prevent this,” Bryant said, “because again, we have been talking about this since 2013.” She said that cost her “a few thousand dollars. But it was, ‘Am I leaving? Am I staying?’ This was what I was dealing with.”

Haskins said she and her neighbor, Ms. Jenkins, live near Bryant, who gets runoff from their properties. “We’re on Allen. She’s on Judy. She gets a lot of what we have—it rolls down to her. So now, it did wash away my whole walkway. I had to replace that. It was about a thousand and something [dollars].” She chuckled. “Then on my back, I had, like she said, water. Just water. Water has damaged our drives, cracked out drives. We’re just in a mess. And we was in our own world at one time.”

Jenkins added, “Flooding was so bad, I had to have a water pump put up under my house. Because it was coming out into my garage. It was flooding in my garage, so I had to put a water pump in there to pump it out.” That cost her “a couple of thousand,” she said.

“And I had to replace my driveway,” Haskins said.

“She did her driveway,” Jenkins said. “I’ve been doing portions.”

Bryant said she does not have flood insurance and doesn’t know whether she can get it. “When I first purchased, we were not in the floodplain. But now, I’m not sure how it’s…I know the floodplain changes. I’m not sure.”

While the multimillion-dollar mitigation project will help with the big problem, the women don’t know whether they’re able to recoup the money they’ve had to spend on trying to protect their homes. We’ve asked Ossoff’s office whether the families impacted by the past decade of flooding might be able to recoup some of their out-of-pocket costs through the Federal Emergency Management Agency or another source, particularly if they were not in the floodplain when they bought their homes. We will update with any response.

Robin Kemp is executive editor and CEO of The Clayton Crescent, which she founded in 2020. She has worked for Gambit, CNN, The Weather Channel, Clayton News, Henry Herald, and numerous freelance outlets....

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