WELLSVILLE - With a ceremony held little more than a month ago to celebrate the completion of an eight-year-long mural project, Wellsville residents may presume that the village floodwall system is doing just fine. According to Wellsville Fire Chief Bill Smith, however, that would be a mistake. For that reason, he says the 0.5-mill, five-year floodwall renewal levy needs voters' support.
In his role as fire chief, Smith also serves as administrator of the village's flood control system, of which the floodwall is the most prominent element. He says that many people, including some longtime residents, only think of the floodwall as the portion that begins underneath the state Route 7 overpass and runs across Wells Avenue toward the marina.
"Most people think it's [only] there, at the big gate," he said.
In fact, between the floodwall itself and stretches of earthen levy, it runs the entire length of the village facing the Ohio River. The good news is that the floodwall itself is structurally sound and in good condition, Smith says. Short of some tree stumps that need removed, along with some ruts and holes that need patched at its base, the levies are in good shape also.
The other main element of the system, the two pump stations that handle hillside runoff and other stormwater collection inside the floodwall, isn't fairing so well.
Out of six total pumps, only one is still functional, Smith says. The pumps date back to the original completion of the flood control system in 1940 and are becoming increasingly difficult to find replacement parts for. Smith says the situation holds serious consequences should Wellsville be flooded in the future, beyond the obvious concern of having only a single, 72-year-old pump in the system.
The lack of a fully-functional flood control system means the village is outside of compliance with the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Smith says that if a catastrophic flood would occur, FEMA would still be there to provide immediate disaster relief for village residents. They would not assist with reconstruction costs, however. In the meantime, Smith says residents could face greatly increased homeowners' coverage costs. "Everybody's insurance would go sky-high," he said.
That leaves the residents of Wellsville with a simple choice, according to Smith. "You spend the money on the system, or you give it to your insurance agent," he said.