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Would A Floodwall Keep Old Town Dry?

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Standing water of six inches or more often creeps several blocks up King Street on particularly rainy days.
Armando Trull/WAMU
Standing water of six inches or more often creeps several blocks up King Street on particularly rainy days.

City leaders in Alexandria are about to create a new six-foot floodwall to protect Old Town from major storms, but the plans still faces some opposition.

City officials are tired of seeing television news trucks (or intrepid radio reporters) race to the foot of King Street every time a major storm sweeps through the region, leaving parts of Old Town underwater. Director of the Department of Project Implementation Emily Baker says the wall will protect the waterfront most of the time.

"It will be overtopped. Just because we haven't seen an event higher than that since 2008 doesn't mean that we won't see an event," Baker says. "Let's hope not, but it could happen this summer during hurricane season."

Baker says a storm surge of more than six feet would create flooding until the river recedes and the pump stations are able to work. But Kathryn Papp, associate fellow at National Council Science and Environment, warns that might take longer than a few hours.

"Those pumps are going to be off until the river naturally goes down, which might take two or three days. So if it overtops at six feet, you are going to have to wait for two or three days for the pumps to kick back in," she says.

Others argue that a six-foot wall could actually do more harm than good.

"It's an overkill," says Tony Kupersmith, a marine engineer who lives in Old Town. "Its efficiency can be duplicated at a fraction of the height, and it does not protect Alexandria from storms."

Kupersmith says a six foot floodwall would trap water on the land while Alexandria waits for the river to recede enough for the pump stations to kick in. That's why he's calling for a four-foot floodwall, but Baker told members of the City Council that six feet makes more sense.

"While we don't see a lot of events at that elevation, that is even more reason why we think that's the right elevation," Baker says.

Last weekend, members of the City Council voted to move forward with the six foot floodwall in theory, but the details about how much money it would cost and when it would be constructed have yet to be worked out. One estimate from 2010 said it would cost at least $5 million.

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