City officials look to jump-start two high-priority drainage projects.
With memories of this month's flooding still lingering, Lawrence city commissioners agreed to speed up planning for two of the city's most pressing drainage problems.
Residents along North Michigan, Arkansas and Carolina streets can expect relief up to six months earlier than expected after commissioners decided Tuesday night to go ahead and start the process for hiring engineers to design the drainage projects.
Original plans called for starting the projects -- an estimated $1.14 million improvement along Michigan and Arkansas; and another estimated $2.56 million project for Carolina -- in January, when a new drainage fee is assessed on city utility bills.
The fee is set at $4 for the typical Lawrence homeowner.
"This will jump-start the process," City Manager Mike Wildgen said.
City officials already have assessed the city's most pressing concern, the 200 blocks of Michigan and Arkansas. Lynn Goodell, the city's director of housing and neighborhood development, toured the area last week and found that 15 of 24 residences in the area suffered "extensive" damage.
Only four suffered "minor" damage.
"Basically, this block turns into a 4-foot to 6-foot river during hard rains and a lesser river during any rain," Goodell said in a memo to Wildgen.
Goodell also noted that alternatives to repairing the homes should be considered. A "better idea," he said, could be buying flood-damaged properties and converting the land to open space.
Mayor John Nalbandian was quick to point out that Goodell's suggestion was not part of any formal proposal.
"Don't get anybody excited about this," he said, explaining the planning process. "It's going to be slow. It's going to be thorough ... and hopefully, by the end of it, we'll have solved some problems."
Wildgen said he would start working to find engineering companies capable of planning drainage improvements. Once engineers are hired, they would investigate various alternatives to determine what to recommend to commissioners for approval.
"We don't even know what the exact solution is," Wildgen said.