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The City Beat

A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Flood Wall

Posted 3:43 PM by


If you’ve been hopelessly engrossed in the drama surrounding the Shell station development in Broad Ripple, you might have missed  DPW’s “announcement” that  they’d been “made aware” that the US Army Corps of Engineers was about to release their latest proposals regarding the White River Levee Project.  In fact, those plans have now been out for a few days, and if you’re a glutton for punishment, can be found at:  http://www.lrl.usace.army.mil/Missions/CivilWorks/ProjectPlanning/IndianapolisNorth.aspx.  


This time around, the Corps. is deciding between two proposals, supposedly.  One proposal is essentially the proposal from last year that would construct a removable (in part) wall along the canal that would separate Butler Tarkington folks from a view of the canal, while at the same time separating Rocky Ripple from, well, just about everything.


The alternate proposal would construct a flood wall north of the Riviera Club which would run east, cutting across the canal, until it connects with higher ground just past the Chase branch, while making Chase a specialist in waterproof safe deposit boxes.


You can pretty well ignore the first proposal.  It was so resoundingly lambasted in its prior incarnation that even with minor tinkering, the only reason it’s even mentioned is to  make the second proposal look good by comparison.


Truth be told, a couple of DPW engineers have been making the rounds of local neighborhood associations for the past few months, trying to sell the second proposal, so any shock & awe that it exists probably relates more to their amazement that they could convince the Corps to front the idea.


Before continuing, a bit of history, in case you’re new to all this.  Indianapolis and the Corps have been messing around with the concept of a White River Flood Wall in this area for at least two decades and probably more.  Two things messed up the concept.  One was the Town of Rocky Ripple, which at one point rejected the idea of a flood wall about a decade ago, and seems to have both the Corps and the City thinking that dealing with the Town is never going to be easy.  They’ve since reversed course under new management.  The second was Hurricane Katrina, which got the government talking about the specter of 300 year floods.That last part relates to the question of who has to buy flood insurance, but doesn’t relate to living on one of the coasts.  At least one of the City’s engineers has been dealing with this issue since he was hired and since he had hair.


That’s as much sympathy as I can offer.  The problem with the new wall configuration is that it only offers protection to areas north of Riviera and Chase, which means it does nothing for Rivi, most of Butler-Tarkington, all of Rocky Ripple, and Butler University.    It also leaves the canal, south of there, open to flooding, which Citizen’s may, or may not, mind.  The City engineers who met with the various players individually, not collectively, allowed as to that the City might, perhaps, someday be able to do something that would offer some protection to each of these areas.  They were unable to specify what they might do, when they might to it, or how it might be funded.  Since they were meeting with groups individually, they were happy to note that they hadn’t heard any opposition, or at least not vociferous opposition, from any of the other groups, all of which, including Warleigh  (which basically has requested something be done yesterday) are now opposed.


It may well be that there is no financially reasonable way to offer protection to areas south of the new proposal, or at least not protection up to the 300 year standard.  At the same time, there is apparently no clear cut agreement with Homeland Security, that building according to the proposal(s) would remove any area from the requirement to purchase flood insurance (and there’s a political element there that ought to be further explored).  It’s as if the necessity to do something immediately is taking precedence over formulating a master plan for the area, and selling it.  Perhaps the Tea Party is right, and we’ll be shutting down all forms of government in the near future.


Immediately after the reaction to the east-of-canal wall last year, the City started off on what seemed to be a reasonable path, which was to gather the constituent parties and attempt to reach some sort of agreement as to the next step.  An environmental mediator was even enlisted to help work the group through the process.  Dave Sherman, former DPW head, who famously announced the last time through that there were “lots of things the city could do to offer protection”  was even brought back into the discussion.


All this changed about six month ago with the engineer’s Rivi to Chase wall idea, which apparently coincides with approximately the current federal funding for the project, or at least the last proposed stage thereof.


It’s impossible for me, since I don’t build flood walls, to offer an opinion about whether the proposals work, or whether they could at some future point be tied into further protection for the unprotected areas.  But it’s not beyond me to suggest that without a specific plan for those unprotected areas, it’s probably equally hard for the people who actually do that stuff to answer the question either.


My advice to the City engineers was to let the mediation process play out,and to come back eventually with a plan that did at least something for all the area.  Maybe it wouldn’t be 300 year protection for everyone, but at least they’d have something that everyone could wrap their arms around as something that could and would be done along some sort of schedule.  I still think that approach makes the most sense, absent the pending collapse of the federal government.  The argument for getting this done tomorrow seems to be weak at best.


There are folks in the proposed unprotected area who are already floating the idea that this is the result of a City conspiracy to build more stuff in Broad Ripple, and to build it cheaper because it won’t require flood plain protection, and also tying it into having paid for the parking garage and perhaps the Browning proposed development.  Personally, I think that’s just political talk, but if political talk gets traction, elections get lost.  The administration would do itself a major favor by slowing this down and developing a comprehensive plan for the area.  It’s called leadership, and right now this idea is being led by mid-level City employees who shouldn’t be in that position.  Immediately, the City ought to hold a public meeting on this  -  it will give them a better picture of the level of opposition.  Secondly, the City needs to continue meeting with folks in the unprotected areas, as a group, and at a minimum, come up with a scheduled plan for the remainder of a project that seems to have left the house without putting on its pants.


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