Park owners, county working on plan that fulfills FEMA requirements
Almost ten years after the first citations were filed against Weddington’s Optimist Park, a solution to the floodplain issues could be at hand. Union County Public Works, Optimist Park owners and a specially hired consultant are finalizing details of a proposal that they hope to submit to FEMA later this year.
“We’re fine tuning the model,” Public Works Director Ed Goscicki said.
When Optimist Park, 5211 Weddington Road, was built by the Wesley Chapel Weddington Athletic Association, too much dirt was added to the site, which sits in a floodplain, to build the ball fields. According to county officials, the floodplain was raised, causing nearby backyards to flood. FEMA officials told county officials and the town of Weddington, which had annexed the property, they had to address the issue or nearby residents would lose their flood insurance. In September 2009, the county hired Greensboro, North Carolina-based U.S. Infrastructure to conduct a detailed study of the Optimist Park floodplain and determine options to solve the problem. Then in April 2010, the parties hired Ernest Abbott, a Washington, D.C.-based attorney and senior partner for FEMA Law Associates, a firm specializing in floodplain issues.
“At this time we do not have an agreement with regard to the removal of the fill, but are still working,” WCWAA attorney Chris Duggan said.
The issue stems from how to address the flooding problem. The WCWAA argument has been that prior solutions were too costly, as they wouldn’t be able to stay operational and pay the full cost. Those options included calling for WCWAA to tear down and rebuild the baseball fields in the floodplain, removing seven feet of dirt. The total cost of this option would be $2 million. The second option called for the park to create a bypass channel, diverting the water away from local homes. At least two ball fields would be removed permanently in the process and the cost would be at least $1 million.
To prevent a shutdown, county commissioners entered into the contract with Abbott, in hopes of finding a way to address the violations without closing the park.
Now the group is hoping to negotiate with FEMA officials, to see if they would accept anything other than a full removal of the fields. Under the current plans, there would still be some dirt in the floodplain, Goscicki said.
“We’re exploring alternatives,” Goscicki said. “We haven’t formally approached FEMA because we haven’t reached an agreement with WCWAA on a plan yet.”
Once park officials and the county reach an agreement, determining an amount of dirt that can be removed, but not drain all of WCWAA’s funding, they will submit the plan to FEMA officials, in hopes the department will sign off on the proposal. Depending on how quick the two sides reach an agreement, FEMA could be looking at finalized plans by this summer.