Whitehall lends financial hand to flood-weary folks

KEVIN CORVO
kcorvo@thisweeknews.com
Tonisha Henry has had the Mayflower Boulevard home she shares with fiance Andre Adams flood four times since moving in 19 months ago. After the flooding in May, the city of Whitehall announced a program to help residents with flood-prevention measures.

Four times since moving into their Mayflower Boulevard home in January 2019, Tonisha Henry and her fiance, Andre Adams, have plugged in a wet/dry vacuum to suck up a mixture of rainwater and sewage from their basement floor.

With the assistance of a grant through Whitehall's Project Prevent Backflow, Henry hopes she can put away the vacuum for good.

"I was on the city's website checking every week and applied as soon as I saw it," she said.

After a pair of drenching rainstorms last spring -- one March 20 that approached record rainfall and another May 18 and 19 -- that left basements soggy across Whitehall, city officials hinted that an assistance program was forthcoming.

The inconvenience of the flooding was magnified by the growing COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, said Mayor Kim Maggard.

After the May storm, the city announced it would launch a program to help residents with flood-prevention measures.

That was good news for Henry.

"We had about 6 inches of water on the floor (in March)," she said.

Henry said a plumbing company "snaked" the basement drain after the first instance, and a second time to remove blockages, but flooding continued.

"We just clean it up ourselves," she said.

Project Prevent Backflow would offer financial assistance for homeowners to install backflow valves, which can keep rainwater and sewage from flowing backward into homes.

The program follows the model of other homeowner-assistance grant programs Whitehall has offered in the past, such as the My Home program that provided financial assistance for people to purchase residences in the city, and the Home Reinvestment Program that provided matching grants for certain exterior home-improvement projects.

Whitehall City Council appropriated $200,000 from the city's general fund into a Community Development Trust Fund to support Project Prevent Backflow, said Megan Meyer, community-affairs manager for Whitehall.

As of July 16, eight people had applied for grants, Meyer said.

Applications will be accepted through July 31 on the city's website, whitehall-oh.us.

On Aug. 19, the city will notify those who received grants.

Grant recipients are required to deposit by Oct. 2 the amount equal to their share of the cost of a backflow valve.

The city then will contract with a company to perform all the projects and pay the contractor, Meyer said.

As of July 16, the city had not determined a contractor.

The city estimates the cost for the installation of a backflow valve at $3,000, but it likely will be less, Meyer said.

Residents, based on how much the grant reimburses, would pay between $300 and $2,700 if the cost were $3,000 and make that deposit by Oct. 2.

Any Whitehall resident living in an owner-occupied, single-family home or duplex is eligible for Project Prevent Backflow, except properties governed by or subject to a homeowners association, Meyer said.

Applicants must have previously submitted flooding information for either flooding events that occurred March 20 or May 19 and 20, Meyer said -- something that still can be completed at the city's website.

If selected, homeowners will receive a cost-share estimate for the program, based on their income level.

People of all income levels may apply, with grant awards being approved on a sliding scale between 10% and 90% of the cost of the backflow valve and installation, Meyer said.

Residents who have questions may call 614-237-8613 or send an email to communityaffairs@whitehall-oh.us.

Despite a relatively low number of applicants in the first week, Meyer said, the city anticipates helping 70 to 80 homeowners.

Installation of the backflow valves is expected to occur between October 2020 and March 2021.

kcorvo@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekCorvo