‘Full Steam Ahead’ on Levee Project

The Riviera Club earthen levee will be completed in 2018.

by Thomas P. Healy

Construction on the North Flood Damage Reduction Project has been steady throughout the year with both the City of Indianapolis Department of Public Works (DPW) and its partner, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), eager to complete the two decade-old undertaking.

Section 3B-2, the Riviera Club Earthen Levee currently near completion, will terminate at the Central Canal. Continuation of flood protection from this point has been mired in debate over the route.

In 2015, USACE recommended the so-called Westfield Alignment for Phase 3B-3 to complete the project. That route has been contested by groups seeking to include the Town of Rocky Ripple in flood protection and to minimize damage to Holcomb Gardens on the Butler University campus.

According to project manager Jacob Sinkhorn, USACE has issued a “notice to proceed” to the contractor it hired in August for the project’s final section. “The ‘notice to proceed’ went forward on August 10,” he said in a recent interview. “That allows the contractor to proceed with upfront submittals that are required and get his sub-contractors under contract.”

Sinkhorn said the contractor’s 2-year contract stipulates completion by August 10, 2019. The contractor doesn’t really need two years to complete the work said Sinkhorn but USACE built in extra time because of the project’s impact on the Central Canal. “Working in the canal is a very delicate thing,” he said. “The goal is to make sure that when we do the work, there are no issues with drinking water.”

He added that USACE instructed the contractor for the Section 3B-2 to clear woody areas in Section 3B-3 along Westfield Boulevard in 2017. “We are limited on clearing during parts of the year due to Indiana bat habitat,” he said. “Getting it done when we could made sure we didn’t have any delays.”

Sinkhorn said the street closures along Westfield Boulevard are for important work outside of the USACE contract. “As part of its role in the project, the City is performing power lin relocations.” The power poles currently in the right-of-way along the Canal will be removed and the lines buried underground across the street. “This kept us from having to put power poles in adjacent neighbors’ property and it provides a safer alternative since there’s no risk of cars running in to poles.” He said USACE’s contractor will begin once utility work is completed.

Sinkhorn added that USACE has scheduled and budgeted to work on a Letter of Map Revision (LOMR). According to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, this is a process that petitions the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to modify its Flood Insurance Rate Map and/or Flood Boundary and Floodway Map to remove owners of affected properties from the requirement to carry flood insurance.

“We’re actually doing a conditional LOMAR which means we’re beginning the conversations with FEMA,” Sinkhorn said. “It’s a lengthy process and we don’t want to wait and start in 2 years.”

While this comes as welcome news to property owners in Broad Ripple, Warleigh, Meridian-Kessler and Butler-Tarkington, it does nothing to extend flood protection to the Town of Rocky Ripple.

According to DPW director Dan Parker, the City is working on it. “Our commitment to Rocky Ripple remains clear, and we are awaiting a full report on geological tests recently done in the area. Results of those tests are due back early next year, and those tests will help us all get a clearer picture of future flood protection for Rocky Ripple.”

READ MORE: Flood Protection Options for Rocky Ripple

The City hired engineering firm AECOM to conduct soil borings (yellow dots.) CLICK TO ENLARGE.

In 2017, the City committed $10 million for a flood-reduction project for Rocky Ripple and hired engineering firm AECOM to analyze options. In June, DPW shared images of four potential flood control measures at a public meeting. As noted by DPW’s Parker, AECOM undertook soil boring tests in Rocky Ripple and along Butler’s property along the White River.

Parker said the City is taking a “holistic approach” to flood control in Marion County, not just for Rocky Ripple. “We met with Marion County’s legislative delegation to exchange ideas on how to fund local flood control and stormwater projects,” he said. The City aims to explore additional funding options during the General Assembly session now underway.

He said the goal is to find a funding mechanism for local flood control projects to reduce the financial burden such projects place on the City’s stormwater fund. “Levee and dam projects are programmed to spend nearly 25-percent of the city’s stormwater fund,” he added.

DPW reports that between 2017 and 2021, the City plans to spend approximately $162.5M of local funds generated by the stormwater user fee on stormwater projects. In that same timeframe, approximately $48.4M will be allocated specifically for flood protection projects including levees and dams. Of that total, $10.9M in FY2017 federal money is included. The remaining $37.5M comes from local funds.

According to several attendees, the November meeting included not only county legislators, but also neighborhood representatives who learned about the City’s search for options. Attendees said the City is interested in a legislative strategy that would create flood control districts in the county to fund flood protection construction and maintenance projects.

Rep. Ed Delaney participated in the November meeting with the City and said it was a good discussion. “It’s a complex idea, but it’s based off of simple reality which is that if you improve flood protection for a neighborhood, you raise the value of property taxes.” Capturing the increased tax revenue could fund flood protection programs, he said.

Sen. John Ruckleshaus was also encouraged by the discussion since it would not stop current work on the Westfield Alignment. “I represent folks who are all in favor of the Westfield wall and I support moving full steam ahead,” he said.

Draft image provided for discussion only by City of Indianapolis. CLICK TO ENLARGE.

Representatives of the Town of Rocky Ripple were very encouraged. “To me, this was the answer we’ve been looking for,” said Mandy Redmond, a member of the Rocky Ripple Town Council who attended the meeting. “It’s a local option for Rocky Ripple protection and no added taxes for anybody. Seems like a great solution.”

Redmond said Town leaders are looking for options that have the least impact on houses. “We could raise houses or pull them back,” she said. “There will be houses affected but we don’t yet know how many and to what extent.”

DPW project manager Ben Easley said AECOM continues to refine their study of structural alternatives for Rocky Ripple flood protection. “Renderings and other information on these alternatives is expected in early February 2018,” he said, adding that DPW continues to coordinate with the Town of Rocky Ripple.

A version of this article appears in the December 17/January 18 issue of the magazine.