Pointe Benton storm sewer project clears hurdle

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Covington this week received the last piece of the financial puzzle that will allow a long-planned $690,000 storm sewer project to move forward in Peaselburg. The red oval encloses the project area. 

$690K detention basins would hold back water

(EDITOR'S NOTE: A few of the dollar figures have been adjusted slightly upward from an earlier version of this release to reflect additional information.)

COVINGTON, Ky. - The newest phase of a multi-million-dollar, decade-long plan to alleviate sewer backups and flooding in the Peaselburg neighborhood during heavy rain cleared its last financial hurdle this week. 

The long-planned $690,000 project will include two additional large detention basins, new storm water pipes, grading work, and new catch basins in the area around Pointe Benton Road, Covington Public Works Director Rick Davis said. 

The City applied for a federal grant in 2016 that would contribute $412,500 toward the project but only recently learned that it had been awarded the money. On Tuesday, the board of Sanitation District No. 1 of Northern Kentucky - which manages storm water drainage in Covington - agreed to pay the required local match of $137,500 to activate the grant, in addition to roughly $100,000 for design work.

Factoring in other associated costs (like for potential property acquisition), SD1's total contribution rises to $277,500. 

That decision clears the project to move forward.
 
“This project is indicative of the cost, the complexity, and the time it takes to fix a problem as massive as storm drainage,” City Manager David Johnston said. “Consider that this is just one phase of a large project that would help one neighborhood, and it took three years just to obtain the funding.”
 
The detention basins would be built on either end of Pointe Benton, with one basin located near where Benton Road runs down from the Monte Casino neighborhood into Highland Avenue. Over the last decade, the City and SD1 have partnered to build four new detention basins on the hillside below Monte Casio to hold back and temporarily store water during heavy storms that would otherwise run toward Peaselburg.
 
Like many older areas of Northern Kentucky, parts of Covington still have an archaic “combined” system that collects both sanitary sewage (from people’s homes) and rain run-off from gutters and catch basins. In those areas, extremely heavy rain can overwhelm the system and cause rain and diluted sewage to back up into basements, as happened last weekend during another round of torrential rain.
 
SD1 is under federal court order to make improvements to the sewer system throughout Northern Kentucky to eliminate such problems under a “consent decree” with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Commonwealth of Kentucky. But it’s a massive undertaking: The cost of complying with that decree - originally signed in 2005 - has been estimated at $1.3 billion, SD1 has said.
 
The Pointe Benton project fits within the context of that undertaking.
 
Collectively the four detention basins built recently below Monte Casino hold over 3.2 million gallons of rainwater - but even that capacity still wasn’t enough in the storm that dumped five inches of water on already saturated ground in a matter of hours.
 
“To date those basins have made a huge difference during smaller rain events, but during the storm overnight Saturday into Sunday, they were not only full but overflowing,” Davis said. “That was an insane amount of water. It’s hard to believe, but without the major improvements to date, the flooding and sewer backups would have been exponentially worse. Obviously we have to keep building.”
 
Before the $690,000 newest phase can begin, the City and SD1 have to complete the arduous legal task of drawing up required documents and agreements related to the project. SD1 will oversee the design phase and the City will oversee construction.
 
The project will include detention basins on either end of Pointe Benton and, along the street, new catch basins and underground pipes.
 
“We want to design it wherever we can build the biggest basins and collect the most water,” Davis said.
 
Once a consultant draws up engineers’ plans, the City will find a contractor to build the project. Construction is scheduled to begin next year.
 
“We wish we could start tomorrow, but the unfortunate reality is that projects of this size and complexity simply take time,” Davis said.
 
Mayor Joe Meyer said the City had been unable to announce that the project was going forward until it received word of the federal grant allocation and then the local match this week.
 
“The timing of this, while coincidental, could not be more fortuitous,” Meyer said. “The flooding and backups in this area that our residents suffered a few days ago demonstrates the need for continuing work on such projects, phase after phase after phase.”
 
Other projects
Meanwhile, another storm water project and detention pond is planned for the area further west, where Henry Clay Avenue runs into Highland Avenue on the Fort Wright-Covington border, Davis said. That’s still in the pre-design phase, and more property has to be acquired.
 
And in another part of Covington, still another detention project is in the works in the hills above the Lewisburg neighborhood.
 
“The needs are everywhere, and every little piece takes a lot of time and money,” said Johnston, who became City Manager less than two years ago. “Slowly we’re making progress.”
 
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