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The City Beat

Floodwall Redux, Redonedumb

Posted 1:03 PM by

Start here for a much better explanation of what happened so far.


Now on at least the surface, things don’t seem altogether awful.  Admittedly, the Corps. has chosen the two alternatives that no one really wants, but at least the City has nixed both, and at least says it prefers the west of the canal alternative that everyone seems to like.


The problem, of course, is that unless the Corps. can be persuaded to change its mind, the City would have to pay for the west bank alternative by itself, and the City likely doesn’t have the money to accomplish that.  Even that is a way, way best case scenario, since just what the Corps. might pay for, even assuming it’s persuaded that the West Bank scenario actually works, is also going to be a matter of getting the Corps. also persuaded to pay for all or part of it.  Further strengthening the City’s “woe is us” position, the City seems to have commissioned a study that somehow concludes that the west bank alternative would, contrary to what even the Corps. thinks, have to extend all the way to 38th Street, and therefore cost something over twice even the Corps.’ lousy alternatives.  Left at that, you have to figure either noting ever gets done, or the City eventually claims it was forced into accepting one of the Corps.lousy alternatives.


Now, there seems to be a better way to handle this, as noted in the much better written article I’ve referred you to above, but it’s apparently not simple for more than a few reasons.


First, for the Corps. to actually change its mind, it needs to be persuaded to change its mind, and whatever you might think about federal bureaucracies, it’s generally true that their conclusions start out etched in stone and get changed either by politics at the federal level, or by proving to the bureaucracy though the intervention of someone it concedes understands the bureaucracy’s stuff as well as it does that perhaps the stone the decision happens to have been etched in might have been sedimentary and not igneous.  Refer to your high school geology if that’s confusing.  In a late development, the City is apparently trying to hire the Corps. to perform a study that will somehow change the Corps.’ mind about the West Bank Option.   Even thinking that makes sense ought to scare the other players.  


The City does not generally build flood walls, and its consultants, at least the ones they tend to use, really don’t either, so their persuasive powers from the perspective of the Corps. are at best cute.  There are, fortunately, a number of well placed and well thought of engineering firms out there who have worked directly with the Corps. in the past, and which, in the past, have in fact persuaded the Corps. to change their mind.  Getting to that point ought to simply involve hiring one of them, and clearly defining what it is you want them to study, with the goal, assuming they agree, of changing the Corps. mind.  That’s the part that hasn’t been done, and doesn’t seem to be getting done.


Why?  Well first, it’s not unconscionably expensive.  Rough estimates seem to be in the $50,000 range, which, given the actually expense of building the darned flood wall, it essentially chump change, and it’s still chump change at twice that price.  The City, or either of a couple of players most effected by allowing one of the Corps. “bad” ideas to ever get built, could easily afford it.


So, again, why isn’t that being done? Well it’s possible I suppose to argue that the City really doesn’t want to get on the hook for building anything, or that the City just doesn’t like the idea of working with firms it doesn’t know well and can’t control, or even that the City’s own bureaucracy is getting in the way.  Who really knows?  But surely Citizen’s Energy, which really, really, really doesn’t like the idea of the proposed mechanical gates shutting off it’s supply of water  (OK, 60% thereof) might have an interest in being absolutely sure that the gates are, as the Corps. seems to believe, the only real alternative, and doing it for a lot less that it’s costing to beautify a mile of the canal’s banks before it throws in the towel.  Maybe their Board, having recently gotten a pretty good deal from the City while buying the City’s water company is a bit squeamish about  staking out a logical position, or just offending the City by doing that, but gees, it’s got a huge interest in the outcome.  Perhaps even Butler University, which if it allows either of the two alternatives proposed by the Corps. to be built will never, ever be able to protect the northwest corner of its campus from flooding, might have an interest.  But, maybe Butler is a bit edgy about offending the City, which picked up a good chunk of its Sunset Ave. improvements recently. and coincidentally has one of the Council’s Republican leadership on staff?  Still, Butler would seem to have a huge interest in knowing where it might, or might not, be able to build as it plans its future.      


Maybe it’s just to slippery a slope for any one of these entities to take on the study as “it’s” thing.  But, “it’s” not just their thing.   Warfleigh has a clear interest in all this, and so do Broad Ripple, Butler Tarkington, Meridian Kessler and Midtown.  All of those entities have homes in the floodplain that are subject to the vagaries of whatever crude beat the Biggert Waters Flood Insurance bills morph into in this and future congress’.  Even Rocky Ripple, which isn’t specifically protected under any of these plans, risks losing any opportunity to ever be protected under either of the Corps. plans.  (Rocky Ripple stiff holds out hope that the wall will go around Rocky Ripple and the City will pay for it.    In this go around, their best bet is probably still the West Bank Option, but with some assurance that its design would allow a future Rocky Ripple Levy project to connect thereto.)  All have ongoing relationships with Butler, Citizen’s and the City, (and with each other)  and all, especially collectively, have a clear interest in the future of the flood wall.  Individually, there’s some risk that the discussion devolves into “me first”, or worse, that nothing at all happens.  Collectively, however, there’s a real opportunity for all to get on a path towards something positive. And, all of them, collectively, can comfortably stake.


The City seems to be in a process of telling whatever stakeholder who happens to be in front of them at a given moment what they want to hear.  Given that we’re about a year away from an election, that’s not wildly unusual behavior, but it is going to lead to some splintering of a potential coalition.  It appears for now that the 2016 election is going to be all about crime, and since neither Rocky Ripple, or Warfleigh (probably the two stakeholders with the most disparate views on what result could be termed a success) have much more than 300 homes, even a mass vote by either or both is likely to change the 2016 result.  There’s also no chance that this project gets built  (or finalized) within the coming year.


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