After Officer Goes Missing, Town Rethinks Flood Control

A flood presumed to have taken the life of an off-duty SMU police officer has motivated Highland Park officials to reevaluate the town’s flood control plans.

On July 7, Mark McCullers was working private security at a residential construction site near Fitzhugh Avenue when a raging Turtle Creek washed him and his vehicle away. He left behind a wife and six children.

In response to the tragedy, town officials hired consultants from Halff Associates on Aug. 1 to research possible engineering solutions. They will soon conduct hydraulic modeling to determine what, if anything, can be done to reduce the possibility of flooding.

“It will probably take a few months to learn more about the options available,” Meran Dadgostar, the town engineer, said. “We will then take the options and cost estimates to the town council and discuss the pros and cons.”

Floods are a regular occurrence in the Park Cities. According to Dadgostar, it’s not unusual for roads or bridges to be covered in water at least a couple of times a year. In the mid ‘90s, high water inundated town hall, destroying many archived documents.

Town officials have few options when storms approach. They’ve posted signs near some flood-prone areas. When they have advanced warning, they deploy police to block dangerous areas if officers are available. However, oftentimes flash floods occur with little warning. The challenge for town officials is finding solutions without creating new problems.

“When you start reconstructing and rebuilding, you may have some negative impact to the adjacent properties,” Dadgostar said.

One possibility is to enlarge underground drainage pipes near the Fitzhugh Avenue bridge over Turtle Creek to hold more water. However, that project could necessitate the relocation of nearby gas, water, and sewer lines that run right under the surface of the road. The road itself would need to be reinforced as well.

“Right now it’s already a couple of hundred feet wide,” Dadgostar said. “Extra depth would require a big opening.”

The site is also approximately 100 feet from the Dallas border. Any flood control efforts there would have to carefully coordinated with Dallas officials so people downstream are not adversely affected.

University Park officials worked hand in hand with HP offices a couple of years ago when UP began work on a McFarlin bridge and flood control project. The ongoing project involves the construction of a new collapsible dam designed to prevent floodwaters from overtopping Turtle Creek near McFarlin Boulevard and University Boulevard.

The small geographic footprint of the Park Cities makes it difficult for officials to control all flood scenarios. Rain from North Dallas often runs down to the Park Cities and flows through the streets, which act as natural water channels during rain events. It also fills local creeks, which eventually run into the Trinity River.

Dadgostar expects to address council before year end. The onus will then be on councilmembers to determine what steps to take next.

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