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Councilman: Cincinnati must address 'regular challenge' of hundred-year flooding

Posted at 4:53 PM, Aug 30, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-30 20:50:19-04

CINCINNATI — A recent string of heavy rain earlier this summer had Jenn Bastos feeling like a fish out of water for seven weeks while she ran her store out of an adjacent building due to extensive flood damage. Now, with the remnants of Hurricane Ida making their way into the Tri-State, she worries she might be in store for some deja vu.

"Every time it rains, I get nervous," said Bastos, who owns Castle House on Edwards Road near Hyde Park Square. It's an area she said sees more and more flooding each year.

Hyde Park isn't alone: City Councilman David Mann called upon City Council's Neighborhoods Committee Monday to discuss how hundred-year flooding — that is, flooding so heavy that it historically would only occur every century or so — is becoming more and more common in the region.

"We had, at the peak of it, I was told about 12 inches of water in the store," Bastos said of the flooding that forced her business to relocate in July. She said she was lucky that she was able to move temporarily into a nearby storefront after the last round of heavy storms, but said the cost of repeated flooding threatens a lot of small businesses like hers.

Kyle Robinson owns Peace and Love Little Donuts just a few doors from Castle House. He worries that, with the next big rain, his business could be next.

"(The flooding in July) stopped two doors before us," Robinson said. "And literally across the street, everywhere was closed; there was debris all over the streets. We have business insurance that covers stuff like that, but it’s still the time down, cleaning up, being closed. It doesn’t cover fully all that. To see it happen so close, it's definitely scary."

READ MORE: Hyde Park residents blame MSD for sewage, flood damage

It's an issue Cincinnati City Council's Neighborhoods Committee discussed Monday, looking at the city's sewer and stormwater systems' ability to handle sudden downpours of heavy rain.

In a motion filed last month, shortly after the heavy rain in early July, Mann called on the administration to develop a "long-term plan for addressing the reality that hundred-year floods are now a regular challenge for our community."

Mann elaborated Monday: "It’s not clear to me that our system, which wasn’t built to handle it, can handle it," he said.

Mann said the city faces a unique challenge created by the coalescence of aging infrastructure and increasingly volatile weather events as a result of climate change.

The most immediate solution, Mann said, is to untangle how the city and the county oversee the Metropolitan Sewer District.

"We have spent a lot of money to go a long way towards separating stormwater and sanitary sewage," Mann said. "That's not the only thing we're talking about. We're talking about the capacity of the system when there's a big rainstorm. And as big rainstorms occur more often, we don't have any choice."

Mann's motion calls on the city administration to develop a plan or report to address the issue, but the timeline for that plan remained unclear Monday.

Meanwhile, as City Council considers the best path forward, business and property owners like Bastos and Robinson are left waiting.

"At some point, someone has to do something, and we have to step things up," Bastos said. "There's a point where businesses can't continue to operate. It's just not worth it."