Monday, August 14, 2006

Palm Bay lends helping hand - Florida Today

Palm Bay lends helping hand

City officials travel to areas hit by tsunami


PALM BAY - The city has its issues with drainage and expanding water service.

But as three city officials learned, Palm Bay's problems are minor compared with the needs city leaders in Indian cities face. Residents of Cuddalore and Nagapattinam in India receive water, sometimes cloudy and with iron, two hours every other day

City Manager Lee Feldman, Assistant Utilities Director Rick Nipper and Melbourne-Tillman Water Control District Manager Al Pennell spent nearly 10 days earlier this month in the traveled to the tsunami-hit southeast coastal communities. to share their knowledge. They hope their suggestions can improve the two cities' water distribution and stormwater system by 2007 with water delivered twice as often and less flooding during monsoons.

The three, joined by two officials from Ponce Inlet, spent nearly 10 days in visited from July 7 to 17. Their trip, which also included two officials from Ponce Inlet, was sponsored by CityLinks, a program co-sponsored by the International City/County Management Association and the U.S. Agency for International Development. Its $2 million tsunami recovery program is expected to end in September. U.S. municipal experts tour and work with Indian locals to address needs that include water distribution, drainage, park development and a model street program.

Pilot projects should be under way by April. Officials hope the cities will expand successes with other Indian cities.

This week, officials from Oldsmar and Port Orange are in India to work on parks and streets.

It was Feldman's second trip to India and a reunion with friends who had visited Palm Bay in February. About a dozen representatives came to Florida then to review emergency plans and see city infrastructures.

Last August, Feldman, now president of the Florida City and County Management Association, was in an initial group one of the first groups to visit Nagapattinam to select priorities.

The trips are paid by USAID through the International City/County Management Association. The city gave participants the time off.

"It's not just a sister city thing. It's more to learn from each other," Feldman said.

Months after Brevard County endured two hurricanes, Nagapattinam and Cuddalore faced the most devastating tsunami in recorded history. Two-thirds of the 100,000 residents of Cuddalore were evacuated. Nearly 650 people died, along with 1,000 head of cattle. More than 2,000 homes were heavily damaged or lost.

In Nagapattinam, 8,000 died.

"I have a much greater appreciation for the resources we have here in the U.S.," Feldman said. He said the city was able to restore water service, clean up debris and restore power fairly quickly after the hurricanes.

Pennell, who has 44 years experience working with public drainage systems, worked with Indian locals on drainage. In Nagapattinam, three stormwater ponds cascade to the river. "But there was severe flooding in the slums, with water knee-deep flowing through homes," he said.

He found that connecting culverts and drainage ditches were full of debris. "Just cleaning them out and opening the channels will help a lot," Pennell said. He worked with a consultant to design larger culverts in some areas that will be easier to maintain.

In Cuddalore, the water is held collects in a bowl-shaped terrain, Pennell said. There, he recommended cutting a brick-lined connector to one of the low ridges that form the bowl. "That will provide a path for the water to leave." He also recommended construction of a pond to hold stormwater away from homes.

Nipper tested water quality everywhere he went with equipment he brought with him. He couldn't test water for bacteria, he said, because the equipment is too cumbersome. But he tested for conductivity, total dissolved solids, chlorine residuals, and saltiness. "It fell within the range of their water quality standards," he said.

In Nagapattinam, he said, a large water tank fed water through gravity. He suggested a booster pump in-line to force water through pipes faster so it wouldn't be cloudy. He said that could double the water's availability.

Cuddalore has a problem with iron, he said. "Many pipes are three-quarters clogged with iron oxide." That not only reduces the amount of water going through the pipes, but it also allows too much iron in the water as it goes through cast iron pipes.

Nipper recommended flushing all the lines and replacing the 1958 pipes -- in place since 1958 -- that can't be cleaned out. He suggested a booster pump to push water faster through the pipes. Engineers are designing a way to filter out some iron before it gets into pipes.

All three were amazed at the trash and debris everywhere, and that both humans and animals bathe in city reservoirs.

Nipper said Indian roads are shared by a variety of vehicles and animals. "There are no real traffic signals. Being on the road was better than any Islands of Adventure ride," he said.

While the three are back in Palm Bay, engineers with USAID will design plans and move forward the project. "The premise is that for 200 years in the U.S., independent local governments have responded to the needs of its citizens. City leaders have skills and experience to share," said Jon Bormet, director of CityLinks with ICMA.

He said 13 years ago, Indian cities became independent. Before that, all decisions were made by the central government. "Now, city leaders have to make decisions by themselves."

Bormet said the hands-on grassroots program works.

"I felt like we made an impact on their ideas," Nipper said. "When the Indian engineers finish plans, we can review it them and make comments. I think we're making a difference."

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