Tuscaloosa homeowner grapples with expensive flood repairs, city says they aren’t on the hook

Tuscaloosa drain issues

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (WBRC) - Tonya Kuhl has lived in her home on 31st Avenue East in Tuscaloosa since 2015. The year 2020 brought significant flooding, unlike anything she’d ever seen.

“The first time it flooded was January of 2020, January was just the tip of the iceberg,” Kuhl explained. “July 2020 was when it got really bad.”

Kuhl shared video of storm water surrounding her property following a flash flood in July 2020. The ponding was at least three inches deep in some locations. Kuhl’s rainboots could be heard sloshing through the water as she walked the property. It’s important to note, Kuhl is not in a flood zone.

Flooding in Tuscaloosa neighborhood SOURCE: Tonya Kuhl

“The flooding up to my shins”, she stated. “Water was in the crawlspace, water was in my house for the first time ever and it was shocking.”

Kuhl says the water flows down 31st Avenue toward her house. Due to the lack of drainage infrastructure in the area the water also settles on the opposite side of the house too.

“It collects and it hits the front of my house which is why I have sandbags up against my property. This is a room that has gotten flooded before, the water has seeped in, and I’ve had to move and shift furniture”, Kuhl said of a room at the front corner of her house. “I’ve had to redo all the siding in special waterproofing material.”

There’s a choke point down the street which backs up a channel of water on the opposite side of her house, which snakes around into the backyard where it seeped into the crawlspace.

“I’ve been in contact with the city of multiple times since July of 2020, and I’ve been stonewalled”, Kuhl stated.

The city evaluated her property and said the low-lying areas around her house and a neighbor’s fence are to blame, not the drainage infrastructure but she believes there’s more to the story.

“I’ve been here since 2015, why all of a sudden is this an issue”, she asked.

The City of Tuscaloosa declined our interview request and won’t say who’s responsible, and why. We asked them to point us to municipal ordinances that outline the issue. Based on our research, it wasn’t addressed. Kuhl is spent, in every sense of the word.

“The crawlspace encapsulation is about $9,600 dollars, the siding on the front of my property has been $742 dollars, the sandbags have been $388 dollars,” Kuhl sighed. “I’ve had the gutters redone on the back of my house, that’s been $640 dollars. Everything is going to cost me about probably about $15,000 and that’s not money I have in my budget to make all this happen and I don’t know many people who do.”

That cost includes installing a culvert and deepening the ditch in front of her house, the fix according to other professionals who’ve consulted on the issue. They say that should be on the city.

“I’ve had landscapers I’ve had excavators, I’ve had a hydro engineer out, and they’ve walked the property, they’ve been out here when it’s been raining. The band aid fix that the city has given me about the fence would help divert some of the water but it’s not a fix.”

State law doesn’t require cities to provide and maintain storm water drainage to prevent flooding and damage to residential properties. A municipality must accept dedication of a drainage easement from a property owner in order to maintain the infrastructure. It’s unclear whether the city is actively maintaining the drainage system in Kuhl’s neighborhood. We asked if the city installed the culverts on this street, a city spokesman said he didn’t think so.

“I pay my taxes, I pay my mortgage, I vote in the elections, I do my part”, she stated. “I’m not asking for the moon, I’m just asking for some help.”

District Seven City Councilor Sonya McKinstry told WBRC that she’s been pleading for assistance to help with Kuhl’s flooding issues, however city engineers found that it’s a private property matter. Flood is pervasive enough across the city that McKinstry says she’s working on a program to help property owners make the storm water drainage repairs, it’s unclear whether the program has been put before the city council.

“We have so many drainage problems throughout the district and the city therefore the need is great and continues to grow”, McKinstry wrote in an email.

Kuhl is weighing her options on how to move forward

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