"If there is one area of this city that is sitting on a ticking time bomb, it's drainage," Johnson told City Council members last weekend.
In recent months, the city's Public Works Department has repaired several serious sinkholes caused by the city's outdated and deteriorating drainage system, Johnson says. With more such problems anticipated, Johnson says he is working to address the issue, starting with finding all the drainage system's problem areas and developing a maintenance plan.
The process could eventually cost the city hundreds of thousands of dollars, Johnson says.
After six weeks on the job, Johnson met with the Anniston City Council during a special retreat last week to discuss what he'd learned about the city, including its drainage issues. He said the city has not been proactive in maintaining and updating the system.
"We have no idea what are all the problems we truly have ... no drainage inventory has been done," Johnson said. "We need to spend time wrapping our arms around this."
During a phone interview Tuesday, Johnson said he will likely request the council hire a consulting firm to inventory the drainage system so the city can create a new maintenance program. Johnson said he did not yet have exact figures on such an endeavor, but estimated it could cost the city upwards of six figures by the time the work is done.
Johnson said a consulting firm will have the specialized equipment needed to survey the drainage system and find leaks and other problems. This will allow the city to systematically fix problems before they arise, he said.
"Up until now we've been completely reactionary ... we're just going from one location that's failing to the next," Johnson said. "That makes me uncomfortable."
Anniston’s drainage system has been a burden for the Public Works Department and the city's pocketbook for some time. In May, heavy rains washed out a deteriorated corrugated metal pipe along Weaver Road near the Lenlock Shopping Center, causing a large sinkhole. The city used $85,000 in emergency funds to repair 200 feet of pipe and stabilize the road near the sinkhole.
Last month, the city spent $6,000 to fill another deteriorating pipe under a house on Paul Street to keep it from collapsing.
Bob Dean, director of Public Works, said most of Anniston's drainage system is made of corrugated pipe, which deteriorates over time. Dean said many of the pipes are between 50 years and 70 years old.
"There is everyday maintenance we have to do," Dean said. "The piping is basically disintegrating and that can create clogs too ... everything will pile on each other and create clogs that way."
Dean said his crews replace old metal pipes with high-density plastic ones whenever possible.
"Those will be here 100 years from now," Dean said.
Dean added that his crews have much of the equipment and expertise to repair and upgrade the city's drainage system when necessary.
"We've got the capability to do quite a bit of work ... it's just a matter of money," he said.
Xing Fang, professor in the department of civil engineering at Auburn University, said many cities face problems similar to Anniston's due to insufficient infrastructure funding. Fang agreed that the city should acquire a study of the drainage system before engaging in major improvements.
"When dealing with runoff and rainfall ... that requires a comprehensive study and lots of data," Fang said.
Fang said that Anniston's relatively hilly terrain should help in developing an improved drainage system.
"When land is low and flat, it's difficult to drain," Fang said.
Mayor Vaughn Stewart said he agreed the city's drainage problems needed to be addressed sooner rather than later and would support Johnson's final recommendations.
"It's not going to go away," Stewart said of the drainage problems. "If he feels we need to get started at the first of the year and then amend the budget, we'll do that ... this is something you don't play with."
Stewart noted that Johnson will search for grant money to offset some of the cost.
"Hopefully we'll be able to find some grant money so we will not burden the taxpayers completely," Stewart said.
Staff writer Patrick McCreless: 256-235-3561. On Twitter @PMcCreless_Star.