Major Port Wentworth drainage projects wait in limbo

Major Port Wentworth drainage projects wait in limbo

PORT WENTWORTH, Ga. (WTOC) - A Port Wentworth man is fearful he may eventually lose his home to flooding that is becoming more and more common.

He believes the issue started with the nearby construction of the Jimmy DeLoach Connector. City leaders, the Georgia Department of Transportation, and the homeowner don’t dispute the flooding. The issue is whether the negligence or environmental changes are the reason.

Wayne Champagne has owned the property on Bonnybridge Road for 32 years. The flooding is well-documented by pictures he’s taken. He reached out to the city of Port Wentworth, Chatham County, and GDOT, through email. He said the three passed blame to the other.

Flooding in Champagne's yard
Flooding in Champagne's yard (Source: Wayne Champagne)

“I’m not getting any response from anywhere,” Champagne said. “It’s very aggravating. [GDOT said] their construction didn’t cause my issue, and that it’s the city’s responsibility to dig a ditch which is to the west of me, across from a church, to keep the drainage.”

Champagne reached out to WTOC to see if we could get answers. GDOT said the same thing in an email. They said the water runoff on Jimmy DeLoach isn’t diverted to Bonnybridge.

They also say they’re only responsible for the ditches on either side of the connector, seen in green on the map. Champagne’s house is the yellow rectangle. GDOT is not responsible for digging a ditch along the blue line. The city would need to do that. However, the property is owned by Norfolk Southern.

GDOT map depicting their right of way in green on either side of Jimmy Deloach Pkwy. The blue line is a ditch the city wants to build. Champagne's home is the yellow rectangle.
GDOT map depicting their right of way in green on either side of Jimmy Deloach Pkwy. The blue line is a ditch the city wants to build. Champagne's home is the yellow rectangle. (Source: GDOT)

We sat down with Port Wentworth’s city administrator, director of development, and two engineers contracted by the city. They said the flooding is a combination of rainfall, the elevation of the area, and high tides.

Champagne’s property and his neighbors’ sit in an AE-10 flood zone, but are only about eight feet above sea level. The worst flooding happens when heavy rain falls at high tide. Tidewater comes in behind Champagne’s property, preventing storm water from draining. Then, it builds up in his backyard. To alleviate this, the city is working on two drainage projects. One is to the west of Champagne.

The city wants to deepen and widen a ditch - the red line in the attached map - to allow some of the water to flow north before going to the Savannah River. The other project is at Bonnybridge Road and Darlington Street. It involves putting a bigger culvert under Bonnybridge.

The red line is the ditch project. The red dot is where the culvert will be replaced
The red line is the ditch project. The red dot is where the culvert will be replaced (Source: Thomas and Hutton)

Both projects require right-of-way acquisition from Norfolk Southern. The city said the railroad company has not responded to their repeated efforts to get the right of way. We reached out to Norfolk Southern to see what the holdup is. They responded back Thursday and said they need more time to get information.

The city said the two drainage projects will provide great relief, especially in normal rain events. However, given the elevation of Port Wentworth, it’s impossible to completely mitigate flooding, especially during high tide. Those drainage projects are two of four being prioritized by city leaders.

SPLOST dollars are paying for the projects. The city said they’re ready to go as soon as Norfolk Southern gives permission. The projects could be finished within a year from that point.

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