PRHA points finger at MLK Extension project for Swanson Homes flooding

Flooding at Swanson Homes caused by Hurricane Matthew. (WAVY Photo)
Flooding at Swanson Homes caused by Hurricane Matthew. (WAVY Photo)

PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) – On Monday, Interim Director of Portsmouth Redevelopment and Housing Authority Donnell Brown held a news conference announcing the plans to help the more than 200 Swanson Homes residents put out by flooding to their units.

More units at Swanson Homes in Portsmouth condemned, residents say

A community activist who attended the news conference raised concerns that caught 10 On Your Side’s attention.

“They blame the freeway project. They’re saying that the water is probably being redirected to them to make it convenient for other people in the city,” said Angela Rheins, who said she spent hours Sunday with Swanson Homes residents.

It was an issue echoed by Donnell Brown.

“We tend to believe that was the major cause of the flooding,” she said in response to Rhein.

WAVY News took the concerns to the people in charge of the project. The freeway project Rheins referenced is the MLK Extension. It runs parallel to South Street, on the west side of Swanson Homes. Leila Rice, a spokeswoman for Elizabeth River Tunnels, which is in charge of the project, wrote in an email Wednesday:

“No water from the interstate is directed toward the Swanson Homes area.”

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But Donnell Brown says she saw the issue personally while driving down South Street 10 days before the storm.

“I personally saw a berm… When I went out there about a week before the flood, sitting up against the highway on South Street and there were sandbags around it,” Brown said. She also claims she saw other sand bags blocking drains.

“We think that was the cause of the flooding because the sandbags were covering the drains,” she said.

Rice wrote that any bags near drains would have been to trap debris, not block water. She says those are mandated by the city. She also sent a map showing the MLK Extension’s drainage system, saying, “a drainage design for this area directs all water to the large pond.”

MLK Extension drainage system (Photo: ERT)
MLK Extension drainage system (Photo: ERT)

Rice adds that “any sand bags that may have been in and around the construction site would only have been placed to protect a slope from washing out by directing the water along the slope into the storm drainage pond which is visible in the photo… ”

Brown said in the news conference that Portsmouth received 10 inches of rain during Matthew. According to Rice, any flooding experienced by Swanson Homes would have been from the high levels of the Elizabeth River or upstream tributaries.

Brown tells WAVY.com she plans to meet with engineers in December.