Water Street grant

U.S. Rep. Ben Chandler, D-Sixth District, left, speaks with Richmond Mayor Jim Barnes on Thursday prior to announcing a federal grant of nearly $2.9 million, matched by state and local funds, to improve surface water drainage from Water Street. To the right of Barnes is former city commissioner and state Rep. Rita Smart, D-Richmond, and City Commissioner Donna Baird.

The late 18th century village that became Richmond grew up around a cluster of springs, one on what came to be called Water Street.

As is often the case with springs, the water bubbled up from a point surrounded by higher ground.

As large buildings were erected, followed by streets and parking lots, Water Street became known for the water that collected there after heavy rains.

Several attempts have been made over the years to improve drainage of the area, including one that employed 19th-century railroad tank cars buried in the ground to serve as culverts. As Water Street merchants and motorists know, those efforts have enjoyed only limited success.

On a hot, dry Thursday morning, U.S. Rep. Ben Chandler, D-Sixth District, met local and state elected officials under a shade tree only steps away from Water Street’s low point to announce a jointly funded $3.9 million project they believe will finally carry excess surface water away from downtown to Dreaming Creek and then the Kentucky River.

Few problems are more in need of fixing than downtown storm-water drainage, said Richmond Mayor Jim Barnes.

The project will directly benefit more than 10,500 residents, by preventing flooding and backflow, according to the grant application. Among the beneficiaries are Madison Middle School and 13 Eastern Kentucky University residence halls.

The solution has been nearly seven years in the making and required the effort of governments at all three levels, the mayor said.

“Government works only when all governments work together,” Barnes said, as Chandler and state Sen. Jared Carpenter, R-Berea, and state Rep. Rita Smart, D-Richmond, listened.

The funding, most of which comes from the federal government, would not have been have been possible without Chandler’s assistance, Barnes said.

Chandler said Richmond was “an easy community to care about.”

The grant was a bi-partisan effort, the congressman said, noting the presence of Carpenter and Smart.

That cooperative spirit is a refreshing contrast to the often rancorous discourse of Washington and Frankfort, said Chandler, a former state auditor, attorney general and unsuccessful candidate for governor.

The project is being funded by a $2.88 million grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency matched by $460,000 from the State Emergency Management Agency, $300,000 from the state Department of Local Government and $200,000 from a previous local bond issue, officials said.

Although funding is in hand, project design is only about 75 percent complete, so construction likely will not begin until 2012 or possibly 2013, the mayor said.

Barnes also praised the work of Integrated Engineering of Lexington and engineer Harsha Wijesiri for conceiving a project that qualified for funding.

The project will require excavating across Main and Irvine streets through parking lots and a parcel of land the city previously purchased between US Bank and a block of Main Street buildings to reach a ravine that flows north from beyond Irvine Street, the engineer said.

Bill Robinson can be reached at brobinson@richmondregister.com or at 624-6622.

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