Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Greg Jordan

August 1, 2013

The day will come when Mother Nature isn’t trying to reclaim Princeton

— — Whenever the skies grow dark and rain is in the forecast, I find myself wondering how much rain will fall and whether Stafford Drive in Princeton will be flooded yet again. Our photographers are always looking for weather pictures, and cars going through the high water are a good bet. I hardly remember a time when Stafford Drive hasn’t been prone to catching high water.

Much of Princeton is in the flood plain, and Mother Nature constantly tries to reclaim her property. Several years ago I could have sworn I saw a muskrat near the municipal building off Courthouse Road, and occasionally I see ducks and herons in areas of Brush Creek.

Sometimes I watch a show called “Life After People.” It describes what would happen if human beings suddenly vanished from the world and what would happen to all the things we would leave behind.

I suspect Princeton would begin its transformation back to wetlands. Without anybody to clear Brush Creek, keep drains and culverts clean, and clean up the gravel and sand washed into the streets, soil would expand and water would collect. Within 50 years, you would be able to see ducks swimming over former parking lots.

However, human beings aren’t leaving Princeton or the rest of the world anytime soon, so Stafford Drive’s high water issue has to be addressed. The city has tried several times to obtain a state Small Cities Block Grant to fund changes to the drainage system, but none of them have been approved.

A grant from the Hugh I. Shott, Jr. Foundation is allowing the city to move on the design phase of the project, and on Monday the council heard from the representatives of five engineering firms interested in designing changes in the drainage system.

The high water coming after heavy rain might not be a full-blown flood, but it is still a problem. The Princeton Fire Department has to put up signs warning motorists not to try and cross the water. Sometimes drivers get stuck or drive into a ditch because it was underwater.

Years ago, I made that mistake and almost lost my car. Floodwaters were covering parts of Mercer County, so I had to go out and see if I could talk to people who were experiencing the situation first hand. I first drove to Falls Mills, Va. and then headed for Bluefield, Va. Just when I reached the downtown, I saw that much of the road was underwater already. 

This was before Bluefield, Va. moved its town hall, so floodwater would back up into the downtown. I was trying to get back to the Daily Telegraph, so I decided to drive through the water. Other cars and trucks seemed to be getting over the water without any trouble, so why not me?

At first, I was making the crossing without any trouble, but then my car seemed to be slowing down. I fought back panic and kept going. The water was deeper than I had expected and the trip was longer. I kept going and started watching for water to seep into the car. Finally, I reached pavement and, saying a silent prayer of thanks, hurried back to the office.

However, my trusty car — the first new car I had ever owned — didn’t feel quite right. I had it checked out, but my trusty ride was never really the same again. I never tried that stunt again. I don’t care if other people seem to be crossing a water-covered roadway without any trouble. I’m not doing it. I almost lost my car and I count myself as lucky. That’s why when I see water on parts of Stafford Drive, I find another route.

 The point is drivers shouldn’t have to find another route every time heavy rain arrives over Princeton. High water isn’t just a hazard to cars; it’s a hazard to property, too. I’ve seen the water level approach businesses along Stafford Drive, and I know homeowners have had problems, too.

One good example is the Mercer County Senior Center on Trent Street. The center is near Stafford Drive, and its personnel and residents have seen water actually reach the building. I know it’s at least reached their lobby, and they have had to use sandbags and brooms to keep the water at bay. The water just doesn’t have anywhere to go.

My Dad was a design engineer with the state Department of Highways, and he showed me how addressing even a seemingly simple problem is often complicated and expensive.

Hopefully the city will be able to find the funding needed to open up Stafford Drive’s drainage system and get the water moving.

 I’m sure everybody is tired of the situation and wants to see it remedied. With patience and hard work, the day will come when Mother Nature isn’t trying to reclaim Stafford Drive for the ducks and motorists won’t have to find alternate routes in Princeton.

Greg Jordan is the senior reporter for the Daily Telegraph. Contact him at gjordan@bdtonline.com.

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