by Thomas P. Healy
The noise of chainsaws and heavy equipment filled the March air as contractors for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) undertook vegetation management along the White River in Midtown.
Trees and undergrowth removal in Warfleigh were in compliance with a 2016 agreement between the City of Indianapolis Department of Public Works (DPW), the Friends of White River, and USACE that actually reduced the number of trees removed.
“We have been in ongoing contact with the contractor, the Corps, and the City, and are advised the cuttings are within the limits” of the agreement, said Kevin Hardie, executive director of the Friends of White River.
Ron Christensen of Forrester and Associates, the contractor hired by USACE for vegetation management in Warfleigh, said work had to be complete by midnight March 31 to prevent disruption of Indiana Bat habitat.
Now that tree felling is complete, his firm will begin additional work on the bank. “We’ll reshape the bank slope and seed it all with grass,” he said. A thick geotextile mat will be placed on the bank and 14 feet up the slope. Riprap will be placed atop that to prevent erosion. “Plantings of river willows every 6 feet within the riprap will help stabilize it and make it greener,” he said. Deadline for completion of work on this portion of the levee is mid-July.
Trees removed from the water’s edge will see new life as shipping pallets or veneer. Mounds of woodchips will be sold to landscaping suppliers. All work is specified in the firm’s contract with USACE.
A 7-foot-wide path will be located on either side of the floodwall so that mowers can have access to the site for ongoing maintenance. Grass and sod serve to prevent erosion but regular mowing is part of the City’s obligation as local partner with USACE in the levee project.
Floodwall Behind Riviera Club
Elsewhere in Midtown, USACE has begun construction on levee section 3B2 at the Riviera Club. The earthen levee will extend from the tennis courts and around the club to tie into the banks of the Central Canal. A staging area for construction equipment and materials has been established on IPL property immediately north of the club. Construction is expected to be completed in 2018.
The final stage of the levee project is section 3B3, the so-called Westfield Alignment. Vegetation management has already occurred along the Central Canal, with more likely in Holcomb Gardens on the campus of Butler University, where the levee will terminate. The construction project was sent out for competitive bidding in early April with construction completed by December 2018.
In February, the City of Indianapolis submitted a Memorandum of Understanding [PDF] to Butler University and the Town of Rocky Ripple that pledges $10 million over the next five years “for the purpose of studies, planning, design and construction, rehabilitation and/or reconstruction of flood damage reduction facilities in the Town and on the University’s campus along the West Fork of the White River.” On March 14, both Rocky Ripple and Butler representatives signed the MOU.
The City pledged to coordinate with the Town and the University to
- identify planning and study opportunities for water quality, flood protection, erosion control, and storm water;
- assist with the completion of flood damage reduction and flood protection infrastructure improvements; and
- assist with obtaining necessary easements, rights of entry, and permits.
Rocky Ripple Town Board president Carla Gaff-Clark called the agreement a success. “Basically what the MOU does is locks the City, Butler, and Rocky Ripple to plans to get Rocky Ripple and the Butler athletic fields out of the 100-year flood plain,” she said.
Gaff-Clark acknowledges the $10 million “won’t get us there,” but hopes that the City’s investment will spur a local project that can include funding from Butler University and county stormwater fees. Since USACE declined to include Rocky Ripple in its levee project, Gaff-Clark said a local project was the only win-win option. “We will save on flood insurance, be safe, and be able to build in here again—that should help property values go up.”
She said the City will meet with Rocky Ripple leaders to discuss options for an estimated 25 houses that may need to be relocated. “It’s going to take time to figure it all out,“ she said. “The City has known we’re against the wall along the Canal, but at the same time, it’s not a decision we get to make. We can’t stop them and the wall. We’re moving forward.”
Long-time Rocky Ripple homeowner Carolyn Webster disagrees. “The amount of money the City needs for infrastructure is huge. Why waste it on two walls?“ She and her neighbors launched a petition drive that has more than 240 signatures from Rocky Ripple residents. The petition calls for building one wall around Rocky Ripple and Butler athletic fields, rather than completing the Westfield Alignment and building a second wall.
Some of her neighbors have enlisted the assistance of attorney Russell Sipes. In a March 30 presentation to the City-County Council’s Public Works Committee, Sipes asked councillors to hit the pause button. “The people I represent suggest the City tell the Corps, ‘Finish the wall behind Riviera Club and stop.’” Sipes said his clients would request that the City ask USACE to design a wall to go around Rocky Ripple and Butler University. He said that establishing a flood district with all affected north-side properties included would help generate sufficient funds to pay for both construction and maintenance and save taxpayers money in the long run.