Archived Story

Been there, done that

Published 3:02pm Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Eight hours of continuous rainfall on Thursday not only ruined many Fourth of July celebrations but also dredged up some ugly memories about Hartselle’s woeful drainage system and the problems it has created over the years.

As a young reporter in the early 1960s, I learned from some of the old-timers that Hartselle’s first settlers, most of whom were businessmen, knew a lot more about salesmanship than civil engineering. Thus, the town settled on a bed of limestone rock and grew up around the convergence of two drainage basins. The town’s future well being was further compromised when developers covered the open drainage ditches and replaced them with commercial buildings, paved streets and parking lots.

Years later, when city officials began looking for a feasible way to divert storm water from the central business district, it was determined that the task of opening a drainage ditch on the east side of the CSX Railroad was cost prohibitive. Likewise, the same conclusion as apparently reached by ALDOT engineers in the early 1950s when they opted to route the northwest drainage basin underneath the highway to Shorts Branch rather than digging a drainage ditch and diverting the water along the west side of the highway.

The consequences of those decisions have been well documented over the years in the aftermath of heavy rain events that have occurred in short periods.

The worst of these by far was the great flood of 1963. It happened at midnight on July 23rd following a 90-minute cloudburst that dumped five to six inches of water on the downtown business district. Seventy-five stores and professional offices suffered damages totaling an estimated $2 million

The high water mark measured 41 inches inside the Hartselle Enquirer office at the intersection of Sparkman and Hickory. I felt every inch of it as I waded through it for two blocks to retrieve my camera, which I found floating on my desktop. On the street outside was the late Sam Minor’s stranded car with an upholstered chair sitting on top.

One of the positive developments that came out of that disaster was ADOT’s long-awaited decision to install additional drainpipe underneath the railroad.

Perhaps more help is on its way since the city has obtained a floodwater mitigation grant.

Still, the chances are if you stay around Hartselle long enough, you’ll experience another rain event like we one we had July 4th and will be able to pass it off with the comment: “I’ve been there, done that.”

Clif Knight is a staff writer for the Hartselle Enquirer.

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