Another Levee Project Milestone

Completed flood gates across the historic Central Canal. IMM photo.

by Thomas P. Healy

Culminating more than two decades of discussion, design, and debate, the Indianapolis North Flood Damage Reduction Project is nearly complete.

According to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), the project’s objective is to “provide flood damage reduction at a minimum level of an annual 0.35 percent chance of being exceeded; commonly referred to as the 300-year flood protection level.”

The City of Indianapolis and USACE began talking about flood protection in Midtown in 1996 before settling on a phased construction strategy. Construction of the first section (Phase 3A) in Warfleigh began in September 2002. The Broad Ripple portion (Phase 3C) was finished in 2009. Phase 3B was divided into 3 projects: north of the Riviera Club to Kessler was completed in 2013; the segment from the Riviera Club to the Central Canal was completed in 2018; and the final stretch—Phase 3B-3—slated for completion by Aug. 30, 2019.

Michael Moore, USACE project manager, is careful about committing to that date. “At this point, the end of August date is solid,” he said, adding, I don’t want to make any promises. Even when we have a construction completion date, we still have punch list items, but we hope by Aug. 30 we’ll be at least substantially complete and functional.”

USACE is the design and construction agent, Moore said. “We manage the prime contractor and the prime contractor manages the subcontractors. As part of construction administration we have field staff up there on a daily basis to verify that the contractors are doing the work the way the plans specify.”

Moore said there might be some items like lighting at Butler University’s Holcomb Gardens or some finishing touches on the multi-use trail. “Part of the trail is part of our project and part of it the City is funding as a betterment of the project, but all of the work will be done at the same time,” he added.

Groundwork for the multi-use trail that will parallel the levee along Westfield Boulevard on to the Butler University campus. IMM photo.

While the completed project will translate into flood protection for more than 1,200 Midtown homes as well as a portion of the Butler University campus, homeowners won’t see flood insurance premiums evaporate just yet. For that to happen, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has to modify flood maps. “Until those maps are revised, the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) is still in place as it is today. Our projects have to last 50 years and our goal is flood risk management, not NFIP removal; it’s to protect folks and property. The end goal for the City is to have the flood insurance rates reduced or removed,” Moore said.

That won’t happen until USACE completes construction and submits the necessary documentation to FEMA in order to have it certify the levee. Meanwhile, Moore said USACE is currently reviewing draft policies that look at how the agency coordinates with FEMA. “FEMA and USACE need to do a better job coordinating with each other,” he said. “We are working with FEMA in trying to make sure we’re on the same page.”

Moore said that upon certification of the project, FEMA will issue a Letter of Map Revision (LOMR) that insurers require to either lower flood insurance premiums or remove the need for flood insurance entirely.

Before submitting documentation to FEMA, Moore said that USACE policy requires final inspections with its risk management team, and undertakes field verifications. He said that’s to “make sure what’s out there is everything that is required so that the Indy North Project is a system that will function.”

So when will Midtown be able to get rid of flood insurance? Moore is carefully encouraging. “It’s hard to say from this point on. If you asked a year ago, the answer would have been ‘probably two years before that end goal is completed.’” Now, he said, “We’re working at cutting that time back.”

A version of this article appeared in the August/September 2019 print edition of the magazine.

White River Flood Risk Management — Final Stage