Opelika has a pervasive problem. 

Flooding on 1st Avenue has been a consistent thorn in the side of business owners ever since the streetscape project was completed there about three years ago. 

“Flooding has always been an issue in Opelika for sure,” said Sarah Gill, who co-owns Mama Mochas, however the flooding has been nothing like it has since the streetscape, she said. “… They ripped up all the roads and put totally new sewer system, water inlets, drain pipes, I mean everything was new. And we had a couple of floods in 2020 when they were trying to fix the road, but it was because the inlets were really small at the time and there was a piece of plywood that had gotten over a drain. And so it flooded and they were like, ‘This would never happen when the new thing gets in; don’t worry about it.’”

Gill said that as soon as the streetscape was done, however, it only worked for regular rain. 

“When there’s any kind of significant rain, like heavy rainfall in a short amount of time, we flood,” she said. “And it rushes all in our building because we’re the lowest part on 1st Avenue. And we’ve had 10 floods in two years, like where there’s hundreds of gallons in the back of the building.”

A company has to suck out the water, then dehumidifiers have to be set up for about a week. 

“And it’s like deafening sound … we can’t even talk to each other because it’s so loud,” she said.

While the city offers to pay for the cleanup, it essentially forces the business to close for a week.

Gill said the city’s first attempt at fixing the problem was to put more holes in the inlets, however, that didn’t work. 

Then, they installed new drain inlets, bigger ones. However, this didn’t fix the problem either. 

“We still flooded,” she said. “… All we’ve really heard via the emails from the Engineering Department is that there’s not an issue. That the drain system is functioning correctly. And the mayor has been super cool, like ‘We’re going to get this fixed, you’ve been through too much suffering, we’re going to get this fixed for y’all, this is crazy.’ But then when we have the roundtables with the engineers there’s a lot of pushback about ‘why [it’s] this way,’ and ‘This [has] always been this way’, and that’s just historically not true.”

The city has said it will hire an outside Hydro Engineering company, Gill said, but that the business owners haven’t heard anything more on this. 

Another solution the city proposed was a trench drain in front of the doors, but this hasn’t happened yet. 

Gill also said she feels communication has been poor on the end of the city, other than Mayor Gary Fuller. 

“I do feel like Gary wants this fixed, but Gary’s not an engineer,” she said. “I feel like he understands this is a problem but nobody’s really sure what to do about it at this point. Because they can’t very well rip up this award-winning street that cost so much money and grant money to get it right. And now we’re like, ‘Bro, did we even do a study on this? Did you do a rain study?’ Because it’s not just the rain that goes to us, it’s going from 7th Street down, it’s going from 8th Street down, it’s going from 2nd Avenue down. We’re getting hit from all sides with the drainage.”

Fuller said that the city is committed to find a solution to the problem. 

We’ve engaged another engineering firm and materials have been ordered to install a different drainage system on the South side of this block on 1st Avenue,” Fuller said via email. “This issue has gone on too long but we are committed to getting it fixed.”

There are other affected businesses, like 10,000 Hz. 

Russell Baggett, owner, said that while his business is not affected as bad as Gill’s, it is still a problem. 

They have to move stock and records into spaces where they know they won’t get ruined. 

“We’re just doing what we can to kind of mitigate it,” he said. “… It’s been difficult for us to predict when it’s going to happen exactly, like when the rain is going to be just bad enough, and so it does create this anxiety.”

Some of the business owners have to consider long-term plans. 

Gill said that while she doesn’t want to move, it is an option because she doesn’t know if the business can sustain the problem. 

“I really want to stay on 1st Avenue because that’s like my home, and I love the people and what we’re building there, but if they can’t do something about this flooding really this summer or this fall, we’re going to be forced out,” she said. 

Baggett said his business has discussed the option of moving. 

“None of us want to move, you know what I mean? We chose these spaces, we chose Opelika for reasons, chose these spaces in particular, for a reason,” he said. 

Gill said moving wouldn’t fix the problem for someone else, though. 

“Whatever business that goes into that building is going to be dealing with this,” she said. “It’s not going to stop flooding, even if we leave. So essentially, the streetscape has rendered my building specifically uninhabitable by any kind of successful business.”

Right now there seems to be no immediate solution for the problem.