ON THE BANKS OF COOPER CREEK

The ‘Great Flood’ left a lasting and costly legacy

On the morning of May 2, 2010, Inglewood residents Larry and Susan Bryant awoke in the middle of an all-too-real nightmare. “About 7 a.m. we heard a thumping noise,” Larry Bryant says. “Susan got up and looked out the window and screamed. We were sitting in a lake with 2 and 1/2 to three feet of water surrounding us on the foundation and the walls of the house.”
     Quickly gathering their essentials and pets, the couple rushed to vacate their home, but soon found they were trapped. “The sheer force of water made it impossible to move against it,” Bryant says. “We had our dog and a small cat. Unfortunately we lost the cat. The little thing got out of our grasp before we got very far, and we never saw it again. Our phone service was non-existent, but one of our neighbors got a call through to the fire department.”
     The Metro Fire Department managed to rescue the Bryants from their home, but the torrential rains that dumped over 13 inches of water in less than 48 hours on Nashville left a costly legacy. “We were lucky compared to some in that the water never got to the main floor of our house,” Bryant says, “but it tore up all the ductwork, we had to have our furnace and air-conditioner replaced and we suffered damage to our garage. The total was about $22,000.”
     The Bryants were not the only Inglewood residents who found themselves at the mercy of Cooper Creek. What had been a scenic and helpful neighborhood waterway became a very real menace. Starting just west of Gallatin Pike, Cooper Creek runs parallel to Ardee Avenue and Sunnymeade Drive before crossing under McGavock Pike. The creek then runs parallel to Cooper Lane and snakes through the northernmost portion of the Shelby Bottoms Greenway, emptying into the Cumberland River.
     The legacy of the 2010 flood soon turned out to be greater than just the cost of recovery. “My wife’s grandfather built this home around 1950 or 1951,” Bryant says. “Up until 2010, we had never even had a hint of flooding. After the flood, if we had two days of rain you may have a foot and a half worth of water in the creek, but if there was a third day of rain it was ready to come out of its banks. Anything over that, we would see flooding in our backyard that came up to the back steps.”
     The fear of flooding proved to be very real in August 2013, when a severe storm dumped over seven inches of water on Inglewood and Madison in just a few hours. While the flooding wasn’t as dramatic as in 2010, many Sunnymeade Drive residents faced a repeat of the same property damage: flooded basements, ruined furnaces and A/C units, loss of ductwork and more. Sunnymeade Drive homeowner Mary Alice Bernal was one of the repeat victims.
     “It didn’t destroy our homes like in some areas,” Bernal says, “so it wasn’t as dramatic of a story to get on the news, but people had losses. I started calling the water department to try and figure out what had changed. Cooper Creek had never flooded before and now it had twice in three years, so something had happened.”
     Bernal soon discovered a classic bureaucratic boondoggle, as various metropolitan and federal agencies viewed Cooper Creek as the responsibility of “the other guy.” Frustrated by the lack of action, a group of homeowners led by Bernal and the Bryants took their concerns to a meeting of the Inglewood Homeowners Association.
     “A group of us decided to walk the creek and see what was up,” Bernal says. “Lance Wagner from the Nashville Stormwater Management Committee and Anthony Viglietti (Metropolitan Beautification and Environment commissioner) went with us, and we found all kinds of blockages.” The group discovered a hidden “treasure trove” of items swept into the creek by the 2010 flood: furniture, shopping carts, trashcans, recycling bins, 55 gallon drums, large appliances, mattresses and even a set of pre-cast cement steps clogging up the waterway.
     “We found three different graveyards of dumpsters,” Bernal says. “One spot had 27 of them. Tony has since found a couple more spots where they floated down the creek and landed. There’s a lot of weird stuff that I never would have guessed in a million years.” As a result of their explorations, a neighborhood-based cleanup of the creek was organized in April 2014.
     “We worked with Tony and councilman Anthony Davis, and they were very helpful,” Bernal says. “We had over 25 volunteers who came out, and we got some major blockages opened up. Four days later, we had a massive storm. We got about four plus inches and no one flooded. That was really amazing.”
     A second cleanup was held in October. Viglietti has also worked with Metro Stormwater Management to clean up multiple fallen trees and debris in the portion of Cooper Creek that runs through the 55 acres of undeveloped land that comprises the former Riverside Riding Academy, just west of the Shelby Bottoms Greenway.
     The neighborhood creek cleanups have made a dramatic difference, and the flood and subsequent problems raised awareness of the importance of maintaining the waterway. A Facebook page, “Friends of Cooper Creek,” was established as a source for news, updates, and announcements of future cleanups.
     “We’d like to hold two cleanups a year,” Bernal says. “We’d love to get to the point where it’s just a maintenance issue. We are also working with Mark Thien at the Nashville Clean Water Project to come up with an education plan. I never realized that if you put brush in the dry creek bed that will hurt somebody down the line. There are many simple things that people can do that will make a big difference.”
     “I won’t say it’s been pleasant,” Bryant says, “but we have made a lot of good friends. We had a bit of unofficial neighborhood watch to look out for each other, but that’s been expanded to when there’s a possible storm, we’re usually out watching and talking to each other. Making people aware of the situation, getting homeowners to take responsibility for the channel on their property, and keeping it clean, it will make everyone much safer and hopefully make us all a little closer.”