CHEYENNE – When clouds roll in and weather forecasters start calling for rain, a sinking feeling of worry sets in for Rod and Joyce Stone.
At their cozy home off the intersection of Summit and North College drives, the fear is that their foot-high barricade of sandbags around the property won’t be enough to hold off the steady streams of water from the storm – which flow east from the city of Cheyenne and rush onto their county property from the eastern slope of North College Drive.
It hasn’t always been that way, though.
The Stones and more than a dozen neighbors in the area have seen an increase in flooding problems over the last five years, since Homes by Guardian began construction on the Thomas Heights subdivision. The area has faced some flooding before, but never like this, Stone said.
“From 1987 to 2017, we had zero flooding issues,” Stone said. “And then, from ‘17 until now, we’ve had two really bad ones, and we’ve had probably a half a dozen or so smaller ones.”
The Stones, leading a charge of neighbors in the area, have petitioned the Cheyenne City Council, voiced their concerns with the Laramie County Board of Commissioners, written letters to the editor of the Wyoming Tribune Eagle and even hired their own engineer to identify the issues.
“After all this time, I’ve just lost hope,” Stone said.
With the blurred lines of whose job it is to fix the flooding, nothing has been done yet to resolve the issue. However, Mayor Patrick Collins, who took office in January, said the city is dedicated to finding a solution to the problem and has an idea in the works.
As city engineers work up a plan to direct the stormwater away from residents, the City Council is expected to give a final vote at its meeting Monday on another Homes by Guardian development – with the annexation, rezoning and approval of a final plat on the docket for the Whitney Ranch subdivision, north of Dell Range Boulevard near Whitney Road.
The subdivision is expected to encompass 107 single-family homes under the current proposal, and Homes by Guardian plans to carry out multiple building phases for the development at Whitney Ranch.
The residents near Thomas Heights want to see drainage solutions identified before Homes by Guardian continues to develop. But Homes by Guardian Vice President Joe Patterson said for the Whitney Ranch project, they’ve looked “farther downstream” in coming up with their drainage plans.
Citing those changes from the Thomas Heights design, Mayor Collins said he is confident that residents will not be affected by this project, and that the city will work to keep a similar situation from happening again.
“I live in the ‘is,’ not the ‘was.’ And so, I know we have a problem, and I’m going to do everything I can to fix it,” Collins said of the Thomas Heights drainage issue. “It’s important for us to take care of our neighbors. I’m not sure exactly how we got to this point. I honestly don’t know. The truth is, I don’t really care how we got here. What I do want to know is how do we solve it, and then it’s a lesson learned.”
At Whitney Ranch, the stormwater will be captured and sent down a pipe to its designated location. Near Thomas Heights, the water flows through an undefined conveyance, which, at this point, is through a residential area, hence the increased flooding issues for residents. The water takes the long way around to Child’s Draw by flowing east, instead of the quickest route, which is straight north of College Drive.
Collins said the city’s plan, which still needs more design work and cost estimates, would add in a pipe to move the water through the fastest route along College, redirecting it before it reached the homes across the road in Laramie County.
“I think we can make sure that we do a better job in the future protecting people who are downstream from us,” he said.
But as Rod Stone will point out, taxpayer funds have already been used to mitigate the problems near Thomas Heights, and even more will be required to fix the problem.
The neighborhood’s suspicions of Thomas Heights causing the drainage issues were seemingly proven accurate in a $26,700 drainage study commissioned by the city of Cheyenne, which was finished by August 2019 and outlined multiple steps the city could take to mediate the drainage problems.
Additionally, Laramie County Fire District 2’s station on College Drive had to get an agreement to hook up to the city’s sewer lines in December 2019 after water flooded its septic tank and caused an expensive problem. LCFD2 Chief Jason Caughey told the City Council at the time that they didn’t need any maintenance on the septic system for 11 years, until Thomas Heights came in.
“Since then, we’re now pumping it two times a week at a sum of $13,000 for the last six months,” Caughey told the council.
One of the findings of the study, done by Hansen, Allen and Luce from Utah, said, “The drainage design for the Thomas Heights Subdivision does not comply with city ordinance. The drainage design resulted in increased flooding downstream.”
However, Homes by Guardian’s Patterson said that report didn’t take into account a change in city code that occurred after the subdivision was approved, adding that the city of Cheyenne approved the plans for Thomas Heights prior to any construction.
City Engineer Tom Cobb did not return the Tribune Eagle’s request for comment on the code change as of Friday. Cobb was not the city engineer at the time, however.
“It’s hard to say, ‘Is it a city problem? Is it a county problem?’ All I can say is that we submitted all of our construction drawings to city Cheyenne. They reviewed the documentation and approved that prior to being built,” Patterson said, adding that he feels this scenario has cast a “shadow” on development.
“Homes by Guardian has been doing business in the city of Cheyenne for over 18 years, and we are part of our community,” he said. “We believe in our community; we live in our community. And we’re not a fly-by-night company or in it just for the money.”
The residents who have been facing flooding issues, however, feel otherwise. Instead of taking their grandkids out to splash in puddles, they have to warn them to stay off the grass and away from the water. And every time it rains, they’re left with the uncertainty of what could happen to their home.
Larry Bechtholdt, another resident in the area, said, “If they had any concern for this neighborhood, they could put that water back where it belongs.”
The Stones have already had to rip out carpet, do concrete work outside their home and even cut a hole in the bedroom floor after water got underneath it. The couple had dehumidifiers going in the house nonstop for two-and-a-half weeks.
“Quit flooding us. Quit making us worry. Quit making me get up at night to go check to see if we’re flooding because it’s raining,” Joyce Stone said.