Monday, September 26, 2011

A field trip to look at flood risks along VA I-95 toward Richmond

I made another day trip Monday to look at the flooding preparedness issue, this time to Woodbridge, VA, in Prince William County, and later to Garrisonville and Aquia, in Stafford County, all near I-95 25-40 miles south of Washington DC.

On US-1, Jefferson Davis Highway, a couple miles south of the Occoquan River, one encounters a dip at Marusmco Creek, which is surrounded by ramshackle businesses, leading to a Denny’s on the East Side, up the hill, with a Catholic School across the road way up safely perched on a higher bluff.  The area next to the creek is taped off with yellow, and cannot “legally” be viewed up close (without trespass). From a bluff and parking lot above, one can see the mobile home parks and destruction.

Nearby (slightly toward the river) is an neighborhood called Belmont, which has smaller homes, maybe some apartments, older, for lower income people, likely minorities.  There is a creek that is partially covered underground, but exposed in places, as near a sports field, where it could flood. The area did not look damaged, but it’s obviously exposed and vulnerable.

About three miles away you encounter Prince William Parkway, and an area where the media says a retaining wall behind some condos almost collapsed, forcing evacuations. The exact location was not published and was not apparent from the street.  The condos and apartments along the drive look nice and modern.  But the whole area consists of rolling sand hills (below the Fall Line), with dips for streams. To develop properly, usually the land is leveled for parking lots and buildings, and steeper slope-walls are built. It’s critical that these slopes be terraced and planted properly to prevent erosion during very heavy rains that can occur in the humid climate of the East Coast.   Tropical Storms and heavy thunderstorms normally happen, and there is no excuse for not building in a robust manner so that residences can withstand sustained heavy rains.    And there is no excuse for relegating low lying areas to lower income people, as I have seen consistently in northern Virginia. (The problems of mudslides and wildfires are even worse in California, and I don’t understand why the engineering codes there seem so lax.)

I also drove by some senior apartments (that I once considered moving into  -- ironically I did not partly because of the 2008 financial crisis) a couple miles down Route 1.

They are situated in a bowl that could conceivably flood, but seemed to have survived these storms.

I believe I saw the shelter in Dumfries where people were taken.

Farther south, in Stafford County, there are numerous gulches and streams on the country roads going west from I-95.  These can flood and no one should build too close to them.

Most of the single family homes and apartment buildings in this area (particularly the large ones), however, appeared to be built high enough away from streams that they do not face a real flood risk, despite the media reports.

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