TUNNELTON, W.Va. – Heavy rains from the remnants of Hurricane Ida affected many communities across the Mountain State on September 1, 2021, but some three weeks later, the community of Tunnelton and Tunnelton QuikStop owner Dave Biggins are still cleaning up the mess along Route 26.
“We get floods quite often here, two or three a year. But they normally get up to this level, and this time, the water got up to about two foot deep which got completely up in our store, and that morning it was about eighteen inches at least up to my knees,” said Biggins.
Between the product loss and the building repairs, Biggins is looking at nearly $50,000 in damage, and that’s hoping that another flood doesn’t fill up the drain and surrounding culvert behind his store.
Why is the flooding so bad?
According to residents, the drainage problem is the result of a triangle of sorts between CSX, the West Virginia Division of Highways, and the Town of Tunnelton.
Community members say that CSX purchased the land adjacent to the railroad tracks in 1905 and stated that they would maintain the drains and adjacent roads per the original agreement over a century ago.
“We live in a bowl, kind of. There’s an old mine on the hill and there’s other things that cause the water to flow down here.”Dave Biggins, Tunnelton QuikStop owner
As time went on, land along the tributaries of the Cheat River has sunk due to erosion causing more flooding issues for the town and its drains.
But since the drains are along and adjacent to state highway Route 26 within an underpass, who has control of the area near the right-of-way has become a question of concern and haste with problems becoming more frequent in the Preston County town.
“Usually, everything on this side of town and anything up that way on this side of the road comes into this drain,” said Prentiss Taylor who works for the Town of Tunnelton’s sewer department.
The culvert, that’s only about 20-inches wide struggles to handle heavy rain storms like the half-foot of rain that came down at the beginning of the month.
Residents say that the rain came down so hard and so fast and stayed in the dip along Route 26 in front of several homes, the Tunnelton Quikstop, and the Tunnelton United Methodist Church.
Some are saying that the flooding caused by the remnants of Hurricane Ida is as bad or worse than the Flood of 1985.
Hope is on the way
The town of Tunnelton is working on getting funds to temporarily fix drains by the underpass which goes down the middle of Route 26 before permanent help comes from the West Virginia Division of Highways.
The WVDOH is currently working towards upgrading the storm drainage system in Tunnelton from the CSX Tunnel at Bank Street to the North Side of Preston County Route 59. The storm drainage system in the tunnel is private and currently owned by CSX. The plan is to replace and connect the storm system in the tunnel with the DOH’s new storm system along WV 26. This will be handled by an agreement with the DOH and CSX. The design work has been completed by a consultant and the RW & Utilities phase of the project is underway for FY 2022. The construction phase is currently scheduled for FY 2023 pending completion of the RW and Utilities phase.Aaron Stevens, District 4 Maintenance Engineer for the West Virginia Division of Highways
The scheduled five-foot culvert should take care of it, but potential downpours in the future may not make that enough to control the consistent flooding.
“That’s not going to help me in the meanwhile, this flood could happen again tomorrow or anytime it rains.”
CSX provided the following statement:
CSX maintains our commitment to support WVDOH’s project to improve drainage through the limits of our right of way.CSX Media Team
Representatives from the town of Tunnelton have confirmed to 12News that they will be meeting with the West Virginia Division of Highways to discuss a temporary solution before the slated project is scheduled to begin.