Bexley city government floats idea to deal with flooding

CHRIS BOURNEA
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To prevent basement flooding that numerous residents reported during heavy rains this spring, Bexley City Council is considering legislation that would enable residents to request the city install backflow-prevention devices.

Council members and Mayor Ben Kessler discussed Ordinance 25-20 at a first reading at council's May 26 meeting.

"On March 20, 2020, and May 19, 2020, central Ohio experienced two significant flood events that surged sanitary and storm sewers throughout the region," the ordinance states. "During periods of heavy precipitation, rainwater can enter into the sanitary sewer system, causing it to become overwhelmed."

"We heard from a lot of residents who had never experienced flooding in many decades of living in Bexley," Kessler said. "On May 19, we again experienced a month's worth of rain in a short period of time. ... What that resulted in was 11-foot increase in Alum Creek over averages, so it was a greater amount of flooding than the March 20 event."

Ordinance 25-20 states that Bexley's sanitary sewer system is connected to the city of Columbus' system. "Its reliance on that system, regardless of improvements made within the city of Bexley, (means) the city will still be impacted by surges experienced in upstream and downstream sanitary lines within connecting Columbus infrastructure," the ordinance states.

If council approves, the legislation would allow residents who experienced a "water-in-basement" incident on or after Jan. 1, 2020, due to a backup in the sanitary sewer system to apply to the city for installation of a backflow-prevention device. If the city would approve a resident's application, it would cover up to $2,000 and no more than 80% of the total cost of installation, according to the current draft.

Backflow-prevention devices have pros and cons, Kessler said.

"When they activate, they turn the sanitary system off, so you can't receive water from your sewer and you can give waste water to your sewer," Kessler said. "You can't use water on your property while that backflow preventer is activated."

Andy Bashore, the city's service director, said implementing the backflow-prevention program would require extensive testing throughout the city on where the devices are most needed.

He said the devices don't prevent water from entering basements in every circumstance, and installing a device in one residence may or may not benefit surrounding properties.

"There's no really no way to tell if Neighbor A had a backflow preventer and had no issues, that doesn't necessarily mean the next-door neighbor would have an issue if he didn't have a backflow preventer," Bashore said. "Without doing really thorough testing, there's really no way of telling if it would or could cause a problem for a neighbor."

Kessler said the legislation is based on Columbus' Project Dry Basement, which allows residents to opt in to have the city cover part of the cost of installing backflow-prevention devices, according to columbus.gov.

Kessler said he has had conversations with officials in neighboring communities such as Grove City and Whitehall about similar programs those municipalities may initiate to address flooding problems.

"Basically every city in central Ohio is having the same conversation with City Council," Kessler said. "We're not alone in this."

Kessler said the legislation may be amended as the city gathers more research and feedback from council members and residents.

Council's second reading of the legislation is tentatively scheduled for Tuesday, June 9, with a third reading and council vote tentatively set for June 23.

Both meetings start at 6 p.m. and will be held remotely via the city's website, bexley.org.

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