Members of the audience at Monday’s Somerset City Council meeting watch a PowerPoint presentation on the flood damage sustained to structures on Richards Court.

Residents of Richards Court spoke at Somerset City Council’s Monday meeting about the damage their homes sustained in the massive flooding that took place several weeks ago.

While the whole of Pulaski County and several surrounding counties took heavy damage from a February 28 rainstorm, those who live on Richards Court saw an extrordinary amount of damage to their homes and foundations, residents told the council.

According to what Emergency Management/911 Director Aaron Ross reported on the night of the storm, at least one foundation collapsed and several residents needed to be evacuated from that area.

Monday’s council meeting was the first held in person for several months due to the COVID-19 pandemic. That meant the reopening of the Citizens’ Comments section of the meeting and the opportunity for members of the community to publicly address the council.

Richards Court resident Greg Dungan made the most of that moment, giving a PowerPoint presentation to council on the flood damage.

Dungan said several homes’ foundations collapsed, many saw damage to contents and infrastructure, and the local sewer drains overflowed and spilled garbage out into the streets.

Dungan said his own property would likely need to have the entire front wall rebuilt.

He told the council that this wasn’t the area’s first problems with flooding, and that a 2010 flood had resulted in the destruction of one neighbor’s home. The city bought that property and turned the lot into a public park.

Dungan said that, perhaps, the same solution could be found for the current damaged homes.

“I would think that the easiest way for us to be shed of this problem would be [the city] to buy these homes and eliminate those lots as a liability to the city and homeowners, so that all parties concerned wouldn’t have any future damages,” Dungan said.

There is a sinkhole near the properties, Dungan pointed out, and that after the 2010 flood, the city made improvements to the sinkhole and the entire drainage system in an attempt to prevent a major flood from happening again.

Richards Court property owner Don Moss accused the city of negligence in failing to properly maintain the drainage system and regularly clear out the sinkhole.

“The day after this flood, for two or three days afterward, there was just a constant convoy of dump trucks hauling out debris and mud and trash out of that system, which is evidence to the fact that it hadn’t been properly maintained,” Moss said.

While Mayor Alan Keck remained sympathetic to the homeowner’s plights – and several times said the city would work to “make it right” with them – Keck said he took exception to the idea that the flooding is due to city negligence.

“I understand why you would say that,” Keck told Moss, “but that area, as you mentioned, water receded at an incredibly fast rate. So much so that when I went at 6 a.m. the next morning the water was virtually gone.”

He offered an alternate theory to the trucks hauling out debris from the area – that the storm waters swept that garbage into the system during that night’s events.

Moss had mentioned that while property owners were cleaning up and assessing the damage, his grandchildren were playing at the park built on the lot bought by the city. By the morning after the flood, the waters had receded well enough for children to play there, he said, and the playground equipment was not damaged.

Even if the city or FEMA funds could help them fix their homes, Moss said they would not be marketable, and owners would be pouring a lot of money into a home that could potentially be damaged again.

His belief was that the city should buy the properties and make a bigger park.

Moss’s property was a rental investment, and no one was living in the house at the time, but Moss said that with the amount of damage done to the building, he considered it basically totaled.

Another resident, Tanner McCalister, said that the amount of damage done to his family’s home required the insurance company to request bids for repairs.

“We’re looking at, on the low end, $20,000- to $30,000-plus in damages just to make it livable,” McCalister said. In the meantime, his family has been displaced and forced to find somewhere else to live.

Mayor Keck said that because the disaster is considered “an Act of God” type of event, “what the city legally bears is likely different than what we intend to do to try to make it better for our citizens.”

Keck said he had declared a State of Emergency last Wednesday in order to apply for FEMA funding, and he hoped that it would be honored. Regardless, he and the council were looking into ways of assisting Richards Court residents, he said.

He added that he was grateful that all residents had been respectful of city leaders during the discussion.

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