Smart Choices Save Wetumpka Time, Money When Repairing Road Collapse

July 14, 2009
Exceptions, not rules, saved the City of Wetumpka, Ala., hundreds of thousands of dollars and several months of construction and street closures.

One guiding principle of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is that infrastructure be rebuilt to its pre-disaster condition – not improved at taxpayers' expense. Like most rules, there are sensible exceptions. Repairing the huge washout beneath Hill, Orline and Company streets in the city of Wetumpka that followed the severe storms of March was one such exception.

“It would have been costly and impractical to return the storm drainage system beneath the intersection to its pre-disaster condition,” said Chris Newton, public assistance officer with the Alabama Emergency Management Agency (AEMA).

Best construction practices methodology rebuilt the drainage system and repaired the streets “more efficiently at a considerable cost savings,” said Tim Etson, FEMA's Public Assistance director assigned to the Alabama recovery effort. The system would have failed again if improvements had not been made.

The heavy rains that soaked many Alabama counties in late March overwhelmed the drainage system in Wetumpka’s historic downtown area. The intense pressure burst pipes and washed out the earth and aggregate fill beneath the streets. A sinkhole – approximately 20 feet in diameter and 10 feet deep – opened near the intersection of Hill and Orline streets, closing the roads and cutting off several businesses from traffic.

City excavation crews working to fix the problem found the sewer lines were remnants of the 24-inch terra-cotta pipes laid in the 1930s. Replacing the pipes was not an option. Building codes now require reinforced concrete pipe and junctions.

The extent of the damage to the drainage system ran under several downtown blocks. The cost to replace nearly 400 feet of line along the existing route would have been substantial and the process lengthy. An option to acquire the necessary property, primarily retail space, was ruled out when officials estimated property acquisitions alone would cost taxpayers more than $360,000.

City officials, Jarvis & Associates engineers of Prattville in Autauga County, AEMA and FEMA officials agreed on the engineer's plans to reroute and simplify the system, saving local taxpayers considerable expense.

To extract the old drainage system pipes, the existing roadbed, sidewalks and soil were removed to a depth of 18 feet. The badly damaged lines were replaced with a new, 60-inch-diameter main conduit running north and south. A second line, 36 inches in diameter, came from the east and was connected to the larger line that again emptied into the Coosa River.

After the new drainage pipes were installed, the excavated area was backfilled and the asphalt replaced and paved.

FEMA approved 75 percent of the nearly $400,000 project cost. The city of Wetumpka is responsible for 15 percent of the total, or $59,724, while the state funds the remaining 10 percent.

About $3,100 of the city's share was paid for in in-kind resources that included labor.

Work was completed over about a 2-month period, and finished on June 11.

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