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Bloomington Council's Jamie Mathy Hopes Flooding Spurs More Under-The-Street Investments In Older Neighborhoods

Bloomington City Council member Jamie Mathy at his swearing-in ceremony earlier this year.
Emily Bollinger
Bloomington City Council member Jamie Mathy at his swearing-in ceremony earlier this year.

A Bloomington City Council member says he hopes recent flooding spurs more investment in under-the-street infrastructure in the city’s older neighborhoods.

Jamie Mathy’s Ward 1 includes many older, core parts of Bloomington. Parts of his ward, including a stretch of Oakland Avenue and the South Hill neighborhood, have flooded for years every time there are a few inches of quick rain, he said. That’s because some of those homes are on a hill, Mathy said, and also because those older neighborhoods still have combined storm and sanitary sewer lines.

“When it was only a few houses that were being affected, it was easier to ignore those and say, ‘Oh, that’s just a few old houses and we can fix this.’ But now (after the June flooding) it’s very much raised the awareness, that now it’s closer to 1,000 houses than not that are going to be affected by this every time we get a rain of a couple of inches quickly. And that happens here,” Mathy said.

Mathy praised the city’s Public Works crews and first responders for their work in the immediate aftermath of the historic rainfall.

But he said his calls for more under-the-street infrastructure investment in older neighborhoods has “fallen on a lot of deaf ears over the years.”

“As Bloomington rapidly expanded to the east in the 90s and 2000s, all the money was going to build brand-new infrastructure, and none of it was going to support the infrastructure in the older neighborhoods,” Mathy said. “Now, we’ve got everybody’s attention in order to focus on this problem of, how do we finally get this fixed?”

Residents too have voiced their frustration following the storms. Residents from the Eastgate neighborhood, which stretches west of Regency from Washington Street to Oakland Avenue, told the council they want to be a higher priority for addressing the combined sewer issue.

A significant portion of the city still has combined storm and sanitary sewer lines. Those are expensive to separate—millions of dollars for several blocks of work. The Locust-Colton combined sewer overflow (CSO) project is the city’s most notable separation project now underway.

The city council started to collect more money for these types of projects in 2019, opting to raise stormwater and sewer fees by 3% every year. That came after a study found the city would $136 million in needed infrastructure improvements over the next 20 years.

Other funding sources may be necessary, Mathy said. That could include low or no-interest borrowing, or federal or state grants.

“We’ve gotta get these sewer lines separated,” he said.

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Ryan Denham is the digital content director for WGLT.
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