Boardman residents struggle to recover from flooding
BOARDMAN — Two weeks after heavy rain hit Boardman and flooded swatches of the community, residents continue their recovery process, which likely will continue for months.
Some people got only a few inches of water in their homes on Sept. 4, and some had none. But some had several feet of it and sewage.
It’s not the first time flash floods have hit Boardman, leaving many residents asking what needs to be done to solve this expensive problem.
Now that the water has drained out of the streets and out of people’s homes, residents are beginning to assess the damage. In meetings last week of both the Boardman Township trustees and the ABC Water and Stormwater District, residents spoke of the — in some cases — tens of thousands of dollars they have spent preparing their homes for floods and recovering from floods when those measures fail.
Here’s what happened at two homes close to each other, north of U.S. Route 224:
Since buying his Romaine Avenue house in 2018, Les Wright has been through four floods. He bought the place in April 2018, and it flooded in August 2018, May 2019, early spring in 2020 and Sept. 4, 2022. In that time, Wright said he has spent $20,000 attempting to prepare his property for floods and has seen another $30,000 in damages.
He is just starting to recover from the most recent flood that filled his basement with sewage.
The previous owner told Wright the basement did not flood other than the occasional water stream, which Wright thought he could solve by adding a sump pump, as the house did not have one. He bought the house with the intent to update and resell it, but now has so much invested in it, and he fears with its flood history no one will want to buy it.
“I bought it knowing it needed work, but not this kind of work,” Wright said.
He had planned to update the kitchen and “give the house some love,” but had not planned to spend so much money and time in an attempt to prevent flooding.
On Sept. 4, he arrived home in the early evening when it was raining. He went to check on his basement and saw sanitary sewer water coming out of the floor drains. He said all he could do was continue to monitor the mess. In the 15 minutes it took him to shower, he lost his truck parked outside that he used for his painting business because the water rose so fast.
He has been forced to put his paint jobs on hold, although his brother who is a partner in the company can still work. Painting is a side job for Wright, who alos is an American history teacher at the Mahoning County Career and Technical Center and Valley STEM. But he relies on his income from both jobs.
“I get dropped off at school in the morning just like the kids do,” Wright said. His fiancee, Shomore DeNiro, who also lives in the home, now has the only vehicle between the two of them.
Throughout the four floods, he’s had to replace his painting equipment twice and has lost appliances, as well as personal items, such as photographs.
He hired a company to clear his basement, but still has to power wash and clean to get rid of the remaining sewer waste.
“If this wasn’t sewage water, it wouldn’t be so bad,” Wright said. “I could clean it a lot easier. Unless I know I can absolutely scrub it clean, this time I have to get rid of it (items in the basement).”
Two years ago, after Chris Williamson retired from the military for medical reasons, he decided to move from Texas to Boardman, where he grew up, with his wife, Yavohne. They bought a house on Glenwood Avenue and thought this would be the place they lived until the middle-aged couple is ready to retire.
Two weeks ago, Chris and Yavohne’s basement filled up with 6 inches of sanitary backup after 4 inches of rain soaked Boardman in just three hours. Their carpeted basement, fit with a bar, washer and dryer and a work bench, was destroyed. The basement previously had been sealed, so no storm water got in, but there was nothing they could do about the sanitary sewer water spewing into their home.
“Sewer water is sewer water,” Yavohne said. “Whether it’s 3 feet or 3 inches, it destroys everything.”
When they bought the home, nothing about flooding was disclosed.
Soon after the flash flood, Yavohne turned to social media asking for help to clear out their basement. They could not afford to hire a professional service, but knew they could not do it alone. Within an hour, she said she got a handful of people who volunteered for free, even though she had offered to pay them something. The couple also has a demolition company tear out the bar for the cost of a couple of pizzas, because they wanted to help a local veteran.
When the group came a week after the flooding, they helped pull up the carpet and tile that had been put in by the previous owner. They found a floor drain in the middle of the room, but it was covered by a solid grate that allowed little water to pass, which the couple said explains why it took so long for the water to go down. The floor was slightly curved downward toward the drain, leaving the sump pump on higher ground.
“We didn’t have tampons like some people, thank God, but we did have feces,” Yavohne said.
After two weeks, extensive cleaning, and with most of the tile and carpet out, the basement is still wet in some areas.
They are trying to create a remodeling plan that would limit the damage if a similar event were to happen in the future, which they are betting will happen. They do not have flood insurance, but their home insurance will cover $5,000 in damages, because it determined the cause to be a sanitary backup.
Chris said he estimates the couple will spend an additional $5,000 over what insurance will pay and that it will take about a year and a half to complete renovations, because they will have to wait to make repairs as the money comes in.
The cinder block walls were covered by wooden panels, which will not be replaced. Instead, they will smooth out and paint the walls. They also are purchasing special floor tiles. The bottom tile is rubber and has grooves for water to move through to get to the floor drain, and a top floor will be installed over it for aesthetics.
“We decided to do what we are with the walls because it will cost much less to replace everything if this happens again,” Yavohne said.
The couple still wants to make this home work for them. They love the house and the area, but also don’t think anyone would want to buy a house they know floods. They acknowledged that the cost of this flood will be much lower for them than it might be for others, and they attributed that to the generosity of their community.
As the community recovers, the Mahoning County Emergency Management Agency is collecting data to give to the Ohio EMA, which will then determine the best way to move forward. Mahoning EMA is made up of Andy Frost III, the director; Robin Lees, the deputy director; and one intern.
Frost and Lees are going street by street to speak to people who have flood damage and assess how the water entered the structure, how high it rose, if it caused foundation damage and if it was damage to the basement or to primary living space.
These “street sheets” are then given to Ohio EMA. That agency has an evaluation team that will decide if the damage accrued in Boardman meets certain criteria to be granted a disaster designation, sent to the Federal Emergency Management Agency; or Ohio EMA could pursue a different course of action.
“All we do is gather the facts and make a report to the state,” Frost said.
He said the state can go on to collect additional data, such as the dollar amount of damage sustained, but his agency does not do that. Frost emphasized that because the disaster area is so large in this case, Mahoning EMA will not be going to every property that was damaged, but will instead take a sample from the streets that were hit. If this were a smaller incident, he said they would go to every property, but in this case, that would just prolong the process.
If Ohio EMA makes a designation, it would apply to the entire area, not just homes Mahoning EMA visited.
Frost stressed that individual communities are tasked with devising their own groundwater management plans.