For more than 10 years, residents of a Brookland neighborhood have complained to city officials about the severe flooding of their homes during heavy rains, but the city's long-promised project to remedy the problem recently suffered another setback.
Residents of the 1400 block of Kearney and Jackson streets NE said they have been plagued for years by water, often several feet high, that has backed up into older homes along the two shaded parallel streets because of an inadequate storm drain that still needs repair.
At a recent meeting of Advisory Neighborhood Commission 5A, many were angered when they learned they must continue to wait for the planned parallel sewer line to stop rain and debris from collecting in their yards and basements. City Council member William R. Spaulding (D-Ward 5) and District engineers said the $700,000 cost estimated two years ago has now doubled, and the project will therefore have to be reapproved by the City Council.
"This thing's been going on since Walter Washington's day, and all those people at the District building have done is give us promises," said William Rogers of 1431 Kearny St. NE.
Rogers said his basement was flooded up to the light switches during a storm three years ago, and he didn't have insurance to cover the damage.
"And Bill Spaulding, he's our representative," Rogers said. "He knows the whole history and he's just chosen . . . to do nothing but give us pacifiers, give us promises."
City officials seemed at a loss to explain why there has been no resolution to the problem. Spaulding said: "It's not a matter of finding the blame. The project is moving along. Construction is imminent."
"I remember when I came onto this, I asked the same question: Why has it taken so long, why are these people saying that it has been a problem for 10 years," said Michael Riddiford, a project manager in the Department of Environmental Services. "And no one seemed to know."
Monica Lester of 1440 Kearny St. said she first called city officials about a year after she moved in 15 years ago. She said she no longer cares what city officials promise; after enduring "enormous amounts" of damage to furniture, walls and woodwork Lester said she gave up.
Last year, she paved her entire back yard, built a two-foot retaining wall and installed a sophisticated sump pump complete with underground pipes, all costing about $10,000, she said.
"I was home one day when it started, and it was like watching a wave coming straight at me," said Alice Butler, who lives opposite Lester.
"And the smell is really terrible," said Melba Reed, another Kearny Street resident. "I don't care if they city officials say it's not raw sewage. It smells like raw sewage."
City engineers say the problem stems from a shift in the region's topography coupled with a 1920s-era storm sewer that was not equipped to handle the additional runoff caused by the shift.
Residents say they have been assured again and again that something could and would be done.
"This has gone on and on and on," said Andrew P. Corley Jr., ANC commissioner for the area. "It would get in the preliminary budget and then when the budget was approved it wouldn't be there."
Finally in 1981, about $700,000 was approved by the City Council and Congress to lay a 42-inch sewer line beside the existing 35-inch line between 14th and 16th streets.
Riddiford said a second pipe was considered the most cost-effective way of solving the problem, and $700,000 was probably based on a rough estimate of the cost of the work involved.
Since then, a design has been developed and bids have been sought. The lowest qualified bid was just more than $1 million to build the project.
With the costs already incurred for design, that means another $700,000 will be needed for the project, according to Riddiford. In mid-June, he said, his office submitted a "reprogramming" request to the city budget office, a request to use money from another project for this one, but it was denied, according to a budget office spokeswoman. Finding the money from another project should not be a problem, however, she said. "It just hasn't been the right people in the right place needing to get it done," Corley said. "It's a disgrace to the people and the city. It's a health and safety hazard . . . and if that isn't a priority, what the heck is?"
"After the council approves the money, it's up to the executive branch . . . up to General Services," Spaulding said. Now, Spaulding said, he is prepared to let the project be judged on its own merit by the council. "If the money is there, I think the council will approve it," he said.
"I appreciate their frustration after 10 years," said a spokesman for council member Jerry A. Moore (R-At Large). "But in the last two years, since we got the money, not a thing has been done to delay this project. . . . Fixing something like this can be a very political thing. . . . We just have to be sure it stays on track, that DES gets this reprogramming request so that the council can take it up as soon as they come back from recess."
But neighborhood leaders say they are are wary of such assurances. They passed a resolution at the ANC meeting to send a delegation to the mayor's office to see that they are not overlooked again.
"We've come this far, we're going to stay on top of this thing," ANC Chairman Ray Dickey said.
"I want someone to say it will be done," Corley said. "We've heard 'We're going to work on it' for too long. If I was these people, I'd be raising hell. The city has money for parades, money for rallies, money for when the queen visits. But when it comes to this, it's people passing the buck and we're tired of it. . . . I just want it done."