Sinkhole costs, and prevention vs. reaction

The day after the VDT ran Lowndes County’s admission that the sewer line break was theirs, not Valdosta’s, did the VDT start a series of financial investigation like they did about Valdosta’s water issues? Nope, they ran a piece about how much weather costs the county, with no recognition of watershed-wide issues, nor of any need for the county to participate in proactively dealing with them, to reduce costs, for better quality of life, to attract the kinds of businesses we claim we want. Nope, none of that.

Jason Schaefer wrote for the VDT 27 April 2013, What natural events cost Lowndes taxpayers,

In the Deep South, near a river plain where floodwaters rise and ebb from season to season and wetlands that distinguish the region from anywhere else in the nation, flooding makes a significant portion of the concern for Lowndes County emergency management.

OK, that’s close to getting at some of the basic issues. We’re all in the same watershed, and we need to act like it instead of every developer and every local government clearcutting and paving as if water didn’t run downhill. Does the story talk about that? After all, the county chairman attended the 11 April 2013 watershed-wide flooding meeting that led to the city of Valdosta’s likely participation in flodoplain planning. Nope; according to the VDT, everybody around here seems to be hapless victims of weather:

According to disaster history, the county is plagued by severe storms, heavy rainfall, tornadoes and hurricanes, but lesser-known events like sinkholes and, yes, even severe snowstorms during late winter remain costly, though uncommon.

The story goes on with costs to the county of various weather events. Now I admire the good works of Ashley Tye and Emergency Management and all the other county employees who get out there and get the job done when they have to. But remember when the County Commission refused to accept a grant for NOAA Weather Radios because they were “wasteful spending” as Richard Raines put it when he made the motion to reject and he and Crawford Powell voted for it? Citizen J.L. Clark tried to explain next Comission session that those radios would be quite useful in a natural disaster. I tried to explain to Raines and the Commission that we did get tornadoes around here, and that Lowndes County is in the edge of Tornado Alley, aka Dixie Alley. Others questioned the county’s priorities. One year later Raines went up in a Moody AFB helicopter to survey the damage from an F2 tornado (F3 in Lanier County). Fortunately, Ashley Tye could report that there was no loss of life but he also had to report that there was massive property damage and no financial assistance available. Those NOAA weather radios could have helped reach the 14% of people who were not reached by the county’s Code Red weather alert system. And what about next time?

Slightly later, Raines was surprised to hear Tye say the county was in extreme drought. Will the County Commission start paying attention to what’s going on around here, for example by being wary of approving businesses that use a lot of water, and by enforcing the parts of the county zoning code that have to do with river corridor protection and wetlands? Maybe even stop developers from bulldozing swamps to make subdivisions, instead of asking for $3 million to widen Val Del Road. Or will the county continue to just react, instead of act to prevent?

What was that about sinkholes?

Other disastrous risks for Lowndes County include sinkholes and fires. In 2011, the county had to repair a sink hole that opened in the middle of Snake Nation Road. Repairs cost $430,000 for the rerouting of the road around the affected area, said Finance Director Stephanie Black.

Nothing about how the county first tried to fill in the sinkhole and later had to move the road, thus paying twice to deal with it, probably paying even more because moving the road was done as a change order, with no competitive bids. Nothing about why the sinkhole happened. Nothing about the sinkhole in Michael McCormick’s garage.

More reaction, no reflection, and no prevention: is that what Lowndes County needs? That way lie more disasters and higher disaster costs.


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