By Travis Gettys
NEWPORT - Heavy rains sometimes turn areas of downtown into a kayaker's dream, but it's a nightmare for residents and business owners.
"We've had it flooded so bad that it goes all the way across (Monmouth Street)," said Mike Liggett, manager at Maschinot's Music. "There were kids boogie-boarding like it was a water park."
City Manager Phil Ciafardini said city officials hope that replacing 100 feet of collapsed storm sewer lines, which should be completed by the end of May, will alleviate flooding that has plagued some low-lying areas.
Last summer, Ciafardini shot home video showing torrents of muddy water rushing down Monmouth Street, with water erupting like geysers from two manholes and crashing over an embankment into Maschinot's parking lot.
"Once it starts raining really hard it's a waterfall," Liggett said.
The storm lines, which are privately owned, were added to as new housing and business developments were built, Ciafardini said, and the haphazard results show.
"You've got different-sized pipe - it zigs, it zags - you've got different quality of materials," Ciafardini said. "Eventually it will all need to be replaced."
Sanitation District No. 1 is paying for the construction, and the city will pay for the project's engineering and design, Ciafardini said.
The project is part of a new stormwater management program initiated last year that will bring city and county water systems into compliance with district quality standards, said John Lyons, director of stormwater management.
"Our commitment to cities is to make funding available for infrastructure improvements," Lyons said, adding that Newport's project is one of the first undertaken.
The sanitation department has also commissioned a study of the area's watershed to design a long-term strategy to deal with drainage patterns, which have been altered by development on surrounding hillsides, Lyons said.
Buildings and roads leave less surface area for rainwater to be absorbed into the ground, and runoff washes down to lower elevations.
"Water goes downhill, and we're at the bottom," Ciafardini said. "The principle is pretty basic, but the solution is not."
The study, which should be completed next year, will include computer models so the district can develop a long-term strategy, Lyons said.
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