Maybe Hawkshaw should remain empty.
That may not exactly be music to the ears of the folks who believe that big bucks are to be had developing that two-acre parcel at the corner of Romana Street and 10th Avenue adjacent to the Gulf Power building.
But that is the sneaking suspicion I’m getting, especially given the watery lessons Mother Nature has been teaching us about our infrastructure.
Today David Waggonner, the stormwater guru of New Orleans, will speak about his city’s experience thanks to the folks at the Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition.
The IHMC has its own interest in improving the way downtown Pensacola drains -- or doesn’t. The director of the institute, Ken Ford, has tabled a county-funded $8 million expansion of the facility until he feels comfortable that a comprehensive response to the drainage woes of the city is in the works.
See, April 29-30 wasn’t the first time downtown flooded. And it won’t be the last.
Way back in September of 2004, about 50 percent of the residential lots in the Aragon subdivision were built out or in the process. Hurricane Ivan’s storm surge flooded Aragon, and much of the rest of downtown.
And so did a big rain in April 2005.
And Tropical Storm Arlene that June.
And Hurricane Katrina.
And a big rain in August of that year.
In September of 2005, Hatch Mott McDonald suggested three projects to improve stormwater and subsurface drainage -- particularly flooding problems on Romana Street near Florida Blanca Street and along Ninth Avenue in the new -- and very tony -- Aragon neighborhood.
n Project A, an underdrain system, estimated to cost $240,000.
n Project B, which included a new storm drain down Florida Blanca Street to the bay and the installation of tidal check valves, estimated to cost $1,030,000.
n And Project C, a pump station with offline storage, estimated to cost $2.1 million.
The goal was to create a system to accommodate up to a 100-year storm event with six inches or less of street flooding working against a tidal elevation of four feet.
From the time Aragon was a housing project low-income families back in the day, it flooded. It is a low point on the line, fed by gravity, in a system designed to drive stormwater toward Pensacola Bay.
Projects A ultimately cost $673,562 when it was finished in 2007; Project B wrapped in 2009 at $1,534,092, according to a 2009 report by Hatch Mott McDonald.
Project C, the pump station? Well, it never got off the ground because it was too ugly and expensive.
A 2007 final report on Romana Street drainage improvements says the pump house was decided against because of the cost of designing the pumping station, materials and operating expenses, as well as an “undesirable” impact of the “natural and cultural resources” of a “scenic section of the CRA’s historic district.”
“It would require converting a public park (Admiral Mason Park) onto an unsightly storage pond,” the report reads.
Well, Admiral Mason is a storage pond now, though I don’t think anyone would call it unsightly.
While chances are good a pumping house would have cost more than the $2.1 million originally projected, it ultimately might have been money well spent.
Heaven knows that back in 2005 and 2006 this town was awash in FEMA money thanks to back-to-back hurricane landings.
And there was the stormwater utility fee, meant to generate a steady stream of revenue to deal with these infrastructure issues.
The 2007 report concludes that downtown’s stormwater system is susceptible to failure when even a small rain event is combined with high tide.
It also finds -- apparently for the first time -- that Cadets Spring ran through that area toward Pensacola Bay. The spring appears on “recently found historical maps.”
It runs through what is labeled on that map as a “burying ground” and “Watson’s Tract.”
Right through what is now Aragon, and an area that looks suspiciously like Hawkshaw, which folks are champing at the bit to develop the dickens out of.
“Such information was neither available nor anticipated when the CRA was created. Therefore no measures were taken to address the large underground water convergence as it is being collected in the project area.”
The report also notes that “these problems will continue to become more severe as redevelopment in this watershed continues.”
Which means maybe every square inch of waterfront space ought not to be paved over and townhoused or condoed. Let us not be afraid to move the progress of Pensacola to the west a tad.
There is plenty of room for infill housing in Belmont-DeVilliers, and the Westside neighborhood, where Habitat for Humanity has made good progress with its Neighborhood Revitalization Initiative, which aims to improve existing housing stock.
The old Blount School property is a full city block of a bike’s ride away from the Community Maritime Park that needs to become something other than empty.
It’s maybe time to consider putting some of the rebirth of our city on higher ground.
And then working to shore up the infrastructure under our feet before it washes out from under us.