SOUTH PITTSBURG, Tenn. — Every time a heavy rain occurs over South Pittsburg, residents hold their breath in fear of another destructive flash flood.
The city has averaged at least one flood every three to four years since 2000, and they have grown in intensity over that time.
In July 2013, a flash flood devastated the downtown and Richard City areas of town.
It happened again on Christmas Day in 2015, and one resident died after falling into an overflowing drainage ditch.
A Flood Task Force was formed in early 2016 that included local, state and federal experts in flood prevention and mitigation.
Craig Carrington, chief of the Plan Formulation Section for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Nashville, cautioned in March that any solution would be a "relatively expensive undertaking."
At the South Pittsburg City Commission's October meeting, Mayor Virgil Holder said city leaders had received the Corps' proposal on the town's flooding problems.
"When we first started out and they were talking to us, for the design work and the laying out of all the plans, we would have to pay $100,000 up front," he said. "I know that's a lot of money, but that's what we needed to do because I don't think the city can afford another flood."
However, Holder said the Corps' proposal was that an account be established with an initial installment from South Pittsburg of $615,000 the organization could "draw off as needed" to study the problem and formulate a solution.
Vice Mayor Paul Don King said that represents a quarter of the town's budget.
"Then, if the cost runs more, they want more money within 10 days for them to count," Holder said.
South Pittsburg could not afford those costs "in any shape, fashion or form," he said. "After that, we would still be responsible for 35 percent of the total construction costs."
Previous estimates for a South Pittsburg flood mitigation plan are as high as $25 million.
The board voted unanimously to reject moving forward with the Corps' plan, essentially ending the Corps involvement with flood mitigation in South Pittsburg.
Holder met recently with City Administrator Gene Vess and Utilities Manager Donald Blansett, and they decided to contact a private engineering firm for assistance.
"We think that there's some things that we can do," Holder said. "It's still going to cost us some money. We're still going to borrow some money, and it's still going to be expensive. We think that we can save a whole lot more money and maybe put some stop-gaps in there."
The city is not allowed by law to do any digging work on rivers, streams or dry beds, but King said it is allowed to "dig back" 100 feet on each side of a bridge.
"That's not much," he admitted.
"A lot of our debris gets caught right there," King said. "I think the street department has done a heck of a job here lately getting on top of it and unstopping this thing."
For now, Holder said, that's the route city leaders will take to "see what it comes up with."
Ryan Lewis is based in Marion County. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.