St. Paul Downtown Infrastructure Improvements – Ahead of Schedule

© Jerry F. Couch 2019

FOR WEEKS NOW, employees of Estes Brothers Construction of Jonesville, VA have been hard at work implementing a downtown infrastructure rehabilitation program for St. Paul.  The project consists of new sewer lines, water lines, storm sewers, curbs & gutters, sidewalks, and new pavement in portions of the downtown area (see breakdown below).

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This project has been percolating since 2014.  Financing was sought and obtained from several sources.  Pulling everything together to make this project a reality was a complicated process that has involved considerable negotiation and considerable time.

APRIL 24, 2014

As of last week, here’s how things stood:  Total cost of the project will be $4,041,335.00.  Of this amount, the Virginia Department of Health furnished a $541,465.00 thirty-year loan at 2.25% interest.  The Dept. of Health also furnished a grant for $144,085.00.  The Virginia Department of Transportation provided a revenue-sharing grant through Wise County for $500,000.00.  The Town of St. Paul also obtained a loan from Virginia USDA Rural Development for $1,535,000.00.  This loan is to be repaid over a period of 39 years (maximum).  Rural Development also provided an $878,000.00 grant for the project.   In addition to these funds, the Town of St. Paul will pay $225,000.00 toward the sewer project’s completion.

Debbie Baca, St. Paul Town Treasurer, is pictured below with the numerous ledgers and other records she uses to keep track of the project and the disbursement of its funding.  As each phase of the project is completed, invoices are submitted by the contractor.  These invoices are reviewed and approved by each funding agency, then paid by the appropriate funding source.  If this sounds complicated, that’s because it IS.

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One of the issues that will be addressed by the project had its origins in the days of St. Paul’s founding.  Prior to 1889, St. Paul was a peaceful, uninhabited swampy sinkhole with numerous wet-weather springs flowing into a small creek.  Present-day Fourth Avenue follows the path of this one-time creek.  In dry weather, the creek was a mere trickle that flowed into a convenient hole where the present-day Western Front Hotel is located.  During extreme wet weather, greater amounts of water would rush unimpeded directly to the Clinch River.  This cycle had been repeated for aeons – until the Clinch Valley Division of the N & W Railway came.

When the N & W created cuts and fills for its roadbed through soon-to-be St. Paul, it also created a dam that interrupted the free flow of runoff storm water.  To prevent lower Russell Street from becoming a lake in rainy weather, a large drain pipe was laid underneath the railroad tracks behind the present-day St. Paul Maintenance Department shop.  Then, in the 1920’s, the little creek was “tamed” by channeling it underground into a storm sewer extending from long-gone Tazewell Street to Russell Street.  There, it made a 90-degree turn and from thence, to the drain pipe under the railroad tracks and on to the Clinch River.

Marginally adequate and never updated, the storm drain system was the equivalent of building a house on Blue Bell Island.  Everything worked great – until the rains came.  During periods of heavy rain, there have been occasions (I wrote about them in a previous CVT article) when the little creek declined to be tamed.  It cheerfully reclaimed Fourth Avenue and Russell Street as its own while disdainfully flooding basements along the way.

As part of the downtown infrastructure improvement project, a greatly improved storm drain system is being installed along Deacon Drive, Fourth Avenue, and Russell Street.  The elevation of Russell Street itself will be reduced slightly in order to direct stormwater into newly-constructed gutters and much larger storm drains.  From an engineering standpoint, the plan appears to be a good one.  We’ll know for sure how well it works when the project is finished – and we experience a cloudburst.

Meanwhile, those of us who live or work in the affected areas of St. Paul are experiencing some inconvenience.  Fortunately, that inconvenience is temporary.  The project’s net result will be previously unaffordable improvements to the downtown area that will last for many years to come.

The pictures below will help our out-of-area readers understand the infrastructure improvement project scope.  As you can see, employees of Estes Brothers are making things HAPPEN. 

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