After repeated floods — some so bad that residents had to evacuate through water up to their necks — and after years of attempts to fund a solution, many see the referendum as the working-class neighborhood’s last chance.
If the bond measure fails, the only options left may be to live with the floods or tear the houses down and redevelop the area.
Those who want the measure to pass know the math doesn’t necessarily bode well. At $30 million, the levee would fix a problem that affects fewer than 200 modestly priced houses. But they are hoping that enough voters — at least half — will see it the way they do: Home to mostly young and blue-collar families and retirees, Huntington is one of the county’s last affordable enclaves. It should be preserved, and it alone should not be asked to bear the costs of a man-made problem that wasn’t nearly as bad when many residents moved in.
Studies have tied the flooding to development, namely the construction of the Capital Beltway, which was built on wetlands.
Perhaps most important, residents say the worsening floods aren’t just an expensive inconvenience; they’re also dangerous. Although no one was killed or seriously injured, at least a few people said they came terrifyingly close to being swept away by the water last year.
“I’m just crossing my fingers that enough people will want to help us,” Johnson said, sitting on a green sofa, surrounded by 20-gallon plastic tubs that she never unpacks, stroking her Pomeranian, Polly. “I’ve lived here since 1948, and I’d prefer to stay.”
The 11-foot-high levee would include a pumping station and would stretch a little more than a half-mile. It is the most cost-effective way to preserve the houses, and it is the option that most residents want, the county says.
The measure will appear on the ballot in Fairfax with three other bond proposals, although it is the only one that would fund a single project. The others include $75 million for parks, $55 million for public safety and $25 million for libraries.
A renewed push for a levee came after the latest flood, in September 2011, when roughly 160 homes, most built in the 1940s and ’50s, were deluged.
Among them was Stephanie Leedom’s on Arlington Terrace, a few blocks from Cameron Run. She remembers walking home after work from the Huntington Metro station with her 18-month-old son to find water rising toward her house. She ran home, grabbed a bag of clothes and her dog, and headed for the car. As she fled, the water deepened, soon reaching the car’s windows. “We actually floated,” Leedom, a single mother, recalled recently. “I’ll never forget the moment when the tires touched the ground again.”