Foot of rain in less than five hours causes havoc in area

By Lynn R. Parks

As of Monday morning, Delaware 20 west of Seaford remained closed after being damaged in heavy, localized rains last Thursday afternoon. Tina Shockley, spokeswoman for the Delaware Department of Transportation, said that the road was being inspected this week.

Shockley said that she expects that Stein Highway, closed from the Seaford City Limits west to Shufelt Road, will reopen in one to three weeks. Repair work will most likely have to be done by contractors, as the damage is pretty extensive, she added.

Also closed are Woodpecker Road at its intersection with Butler Branch Road, and Craigs Mill Road between Figgs Road and Butler Branch Road. Those roadways, too, are being evaluated this week and are expected to be reopened in one to three weeks, Shockley said.

The rain that fell on the area was part of the remnants of what was hurricane and then tropical storm Lee, which hit the Louisiana coast and traveled north. The small rain cell parked itself over the area Thursday afternoon, dropping up to 12 inches over four and a half hours along a narrow band in western Sussex County.

Areas east of Seaford received little to no rain. Neither Laurel nor Bridgeville had any roads closed due to flooding. In the city of Seaford, several roads were closed on Thursday evening. All of our streets were flooded, even ones I have not seen flooded before, said city manager Dolores Slatcher. Chapel Branch, a small stream that runs west of town and that drains about 4,000 acres, was overflowing its banks, she added, and the Nanticoke was high, so our system had no relief for discharge. The towns stormwater is collected and deposited in the Nanticoke.

Throughout the flood, crews with the city worked to uncover clogged storm drains to get water flowing, Slatcher said. They also closed streets as necessary, putting up barricades and cones.

The citys streets were all passable by 10 p.m., Slatcher said.

The bulk of the flooding was on Porter Street on the west side of town and on Washington Street in Wilmar Village near Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church.

Volunteers with the Seaford Volunteer Fire Department helped to pump water off those streets, Slatcher said.

Washington Street is the focus of a flooding alleviation project planned by the city. In March, voters approved the citys plan to borrow $2.579 million for improvements to the storm water system in that area. Slatcher said that bids for the project are due Sept. 29 and will be presented during the Oct. 11 city council meeting.

Completion of the storm water project will take about two years. The design for the flood relief system has been completed by engineering firm George, Miles and Buhr and all necessary easements are in place. The design includes new pipes, from 15 inches in diameter to 36 inches, to be laid along streets from Washington Avenue to the Nanticoke River.

The city is hoping that the winning bid for the Washington Street project is low enough that there is money left over at the end of the work to tackle stormwater problems in the Porter Street area. Design for that project is about 70 percent completed; estimated cost of that project is $500,000 to $600,000.

The citys 20-year loan for the project has been authorized by the Delaware Clean Water Advisory Council. It will have a two-percent interest rate and no closing fee.

Annual payback, which will be collected through the citys sewer bills, will be $157,090, or approximately $3.55 per month per household.

Also as a result of the storm, the Seaford School District announced at around 5 p.m. Thursday that it would be closed on Friday, in part to assess the condition of buildings that had suffered from leaks. Thankfully, the damage was limited to replacement of ceiling tiles and clean up, district spokeswoman Stephanie Smith said Monday. There were no major costs incurred and all repairs were completed Friday.

As many as 20 fire companies sent engines to Seaford to assist on Thursday.

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