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Flooding near new Forsyth courthouse blamed on temporary storm water system

CUMMING — Authorities say a temporary storm water system is to blame for the flash flood that occurred during heavy rainfall Tuesday on East Maple Street between Forsyth County’s new courthouse and jail.

At least one vehicle, a pickup truck, got stuck in the water, though the driver was not injured and the incident did not require a rescue, officials said.

The road, which passes underneath an enclosed pedestrian bridge connecting the buildings, was closed for a couple of hours before reopening about 6:30 p.m. Tuesday.

After the rain subsided, the construction team cleaned and reopened East Maple. Water did not leak into the new jail or courthouse, officials said.

But that’s of little consolation to the driver, Jason Cowart, who is stuck without a vehicle.

“I didn’t think the water was that high, and it was higher than I thought, and I stalled out,” Cowart said Thursday. “The water shouldn’t have been there period.”

Deputy Chief Clyde Cook with Cumming police said an officer checked Tuesday to make sure Cowart was safe.

“He actually waded out there to the truck and of course there wasn’t anybody in it,” Cook said. “He found out that the driver was in the courthouse, where I think some people gave [the driver] some towels to get dried off.”

Cowart later pushed the truck out of the water and had it towed.

“The truck is totaled,” he said. “The inside is mildewed already. It stinks really bad. I have no ride to work. It’s totaled. I’m stuck, stuck without a ride.”

Along with work, Cowart said the lack of a vehicle has affected his family and other commitments. And he hasn’t been able to find out who is responsible for the flooding situation.

“I’ve talked to [Forsyth] County, and they’ve told me to talk to the city [of Cumming],” he said. “The city is telling me to talk to the county. So I’ve called the county back and they’re telling me to talk to Turner/Winter. So I’m kind of mixed by how someone doesn’t know who’s liable for this.”

While the liability remains to be determined, a clearer picture of how the road was submerged is coming into focus.

According to a news release from Forsyth County government and Turner/Winter, the firm that is handling construction of the facilities, a temporary storm water system has been in place while the jail is being built. That line, however, reached capacity during the storms Tuesday.

Henry Painter, project manager, said in the release that the “unusually heavy rainfall produced a higher volume of water” than the temporary setup was able to handle.

“In a two-year period of construction, these two connection points had been monitored and were able to handle the previous rainfalls,” he said.

The heaviest rainfall Tuesday occurred between 4 and 5:30 p.m., according to the county. During its peak, the rain was falling at about 1.8 inches in an hour and the water level between the jail and courthouse and jail swelled to about 4 feet deep.

The permanent storm water system has been built along East Maple Street, Veterans Memorial Boulevard and the sally port of the new jail.

It can’t be connected at two corners of the jail, however, until the existing detention center is vacated and razed.

That demolition can’t occur until the new jail opens, which likely will be sometime in July.

To guard against a repeat of the flooding, the news release said the construction team will have temporary pumps — which were also used Tuesday — at the ready and/or provide a second temporary line or “day light” a line.

Citing hydrology studies, officials are confident the permanent storm water system will be able to handle future storms.