'Bottom' project is a top priority for Galax

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Galax is using a $1.4 million grant to fix up 21 homes and install better drainage to prevent flooding in Givens St. area.

With the high volume of floodwaters early this year because of heavy rainfall, plans for the Galax Bottom Neighborhood Revitalization Project seem more urgent than ever.
The low-lying "Bottom" neighborhood beside Chestnut Creek includes flood-prone Givens Street and is bordered by Caldwell, Meadow, Shaw and Grant streets.
Over the years, the area’s bowl-shaped geography has become notorious for its potential for frequent floods. Due to a lack of adequate drainage, storm water easily pools in this area, causing repeated damage to residential and commercial property.
In several cases, residents had to be evacuated from the area due to high water levels. A few years ago, the fire department had to send in rescue boats because the water was so deep.


Kelsey Adams, a member of the city’s management team overseeing the Bottom revitalization project, brings personal experience to the table, having lived there for the past two years.
“The smallest amount of rain floods the street. It doesn’t have to be a torrential downpour,” she said of the conditions in her neighborhood.
Adams is lucky enough to live in a house high enough to evade some of the water, but she’s witnessed several evacuations since she moved in.
"A big problem is vehicles... they are outside on such low planes," she said. "Sometimes I see water at their doorsteps, and if it’s there I’m sure it’s inside."
The area’s name reflects its geography, and is a holdover from one of Galax’s original names. Before it was founded as a town in 1906 or was even a railroad hub, it was a swampy tract of land called Anderson’s Bottom, notorious for mud, floods and sinkholes.
The most recent flooding occurred after heavy rains in January forced officials to temporarily relocate residents in the Bottom to a temporary shelter opened at the Galax Recreation Center.
The city’s revitalization project will help 21 families with rehabilitation of their homes, and 10 businesses with improvements to their buildings and parking lots, according to Brenda Marrah, city grants administrator and member of the management team.
Last year, the city received a $1.4 million grant from the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development to pay for these repairs.
On Feb. 14, the management team met in the Galax Municipal Building to discuss plans for a three-part resolution to the area’s flooding problem. Actions will include drainage system updates, road work and housing repairs.
The team began its discussion by looking over plans for drainage system improvements to help control the rise in water levels.
Drainage will need to be completed first so that the city can successfully implement the other phases of the project, Marrah said.
“The drainage improvements will proceed block by block, mainly up Shaw Street from Chestnut Creek to Caldwell, with some lateral connections,” said Marrah. She noted that only one block at a time would be closed to traffic.
Depending on the extent of the damage, Marrah also said that some homes may need to be evacuated to complete the housing repairs.
The revitalization phase of this project tackles a lot of individual problems, she said, including damage to foundations, leaky roofs and flood-damaged floors.
The first four houses are already being inspected to get an idea about what repairs are needed. “We are looking mainly in the area furthest away from Shaw Street, because the drainage still isn’t complete,” said Marrah.
The team plans for housing rehabilitations and commercial improvements to be completed over the next two to three years. After they finish engineering work, the project will seek construction bids this summer, with work officially starting in the fall. This phase should be completed in no more than one year, she said.
The city has already solicited and approved seven contractors through an appointed oversight board for structural repairs. More will be added to the team as that phase moves forward, Marrah said.