Saving Rocky Ripple?

by Thomas P. Healy

As the City of Indianapolis continues to work with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) on the Westfield Alignment for the North Levee Flood Project, one question remains: What about Rocky Ripple?

According to Town Council member Carla Gaff-Clark, “We’re gonna get wet if we don’t do something. I don’t think that most people realize that the Westfield Alignment doesn’t do much for us.”

She said the Town Council is taking a three-prong approach to protecting its residents:

  1.  Ongoing volunteer riverbank stabilization
  2.  Lobbying for funding of ongoing maintenance
  3.  Promoting a major local flood project

“I have no confidence USACE is going to come around Rocky Ripple, so we’re looking at a local project that might include Rocky Ripple and the Butler athletic fields,” Gaff-Clark said.

Recognizing that some houses on the river would have to be moved in order to accommodate a major project, she noted that the town owns more than 30 lots that could be made available.

Meanwhile, Gaff-Clark says Town of Rocky Ripple continues to work with the City of Indianapolis on bank stabilization.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ route for Phase 3B-3 is along Westfield Boulevard and ends in Holcomb Gardens. An alternative route could provide protection for Rocky Ripple, enable Butler University to expand, and eliminate the need to construct a flood gate across the historic Central Canal. CLICK TO ENLARGE.

As for Phase 3B-2, which is slated to begin this spring, Gaff-Clark observed: “Once you build a wall around the Riviera Club, it won’t flood there. Where will that water go? It’s gonna come down at us and affect Rocky Ripple.”

That doesn’t sit well with state Representative Ed Delaney (House District 86). “My core principle is, ‘Don’t injure one community in order to benefit another,’” he said. “You can’t direct floodwaters on one community in order to protect another.”

Recognizing that similar infrastructure issues exist throughout the state and that the General Assembly cannot address each problem in piecemeal fashion, Delaney introduced House Bill 1549, legislation that would create a mechanism to fund flood control and drainage works at the township level.

On February 15, the Hogsett Administration announced that it had pledged $10 million over five years to help with flood protection for Rocky Ripple.  According to deputy mayor for community development Jeff Bennett, the funds would come from existing Department of Public Works (DPW) allocations as well as from stormwater fees.

Delaney said he withdrew his legislation after the city’s announcement. “My bill was designed to be a catalyst and succeeded in creating a discussion,” he said. “It seems the city has found a mechanism to address the Rocky Ripple issue.”

Both Mayor Hogsett’s chief of staff Thomas Cook and deputy mayor Bennett confirmed that the City is proceeding with the Westfield Alignment. Bennett added that the City has contracted with respected engineering firm AECOM last year to reevaluate the Westfield Alignment as well as options for Rocky Ripple protection.

According to the Scope of Services [PDF]  AECOM received from the City, the purpose of the review and assessment is to “[P]rovide technical support to the city regarding the selected Westfield alignment of the proposed next phase of the Indianapolis North Flood Damage Reduction Project, including an assessment of the information that is the basis of the alignment selection and to assess a possible range of options related to Rocky Ripple flood protection. The effort will include engineering and environmental assessments to determine if identified alternatives are compatible with Corps and FEMA requirements.”

AECOM was asked to examine the following alternatives for Rocky Ripple, “[i]ncluding non-structural flood protection funded with FEMA HMGP or other grant programs, locally funded riverbank and restoration of the existing levee, a potential combination of those programs. The evaluation of additional alternatives will include:

  1. Cost estimates at a conceptual level
  2. Benefit and benefit cost ratios at a conceptual level
  3. A timeline for due diligence, environmental impact review
  4. A timeline for easement purchase and real property acquisition in Rocky Ripple
  5. Assessment of construction start and end dates assuming funding is available
  6. Opportunities for federal funding
  7. Local financing options.”

On February 22, the City published AECOM’s report [PDF] on the DPW Indianapolis North Levee page.

The Butler-Tarkington Neighborhood Association Board has posted its position that favors a single floodwall.

“Constructing two walls would be an enormous waste of resources, both financial and cultural. We believe Indianapolis would be better served by focusing on a Rocky Ripple alignment to finish the project.”

Rocky Ripple supporters have established to increase awareness of the many options that exist to prevent Rocky Ripple from becoming a sacrifice zone. A door-to-door petition drive secured several hundred Rocky Ripple resident signatures opposing the Westfield Alignment. Residents are attempting to set up a meeting with Mayor Hogsett in order to present copies of the petitions and discuss concerns.

A version of this story appeared in the February/March 2017 issue of the magazine.

Rocky Ripple and Butler Tarkington residents have called for a Build the Wall for All Protest Rally, Wednesday, March 1 at Noon, on the eastside of the Canal at Capitol Avenue & Westfield Boulevard. According to the protest organizers: “The city’s decision for a Westfield Wall, wasting $20 million-to-$40 million, makes no sense from a fiscal, taxpayer fairness, environmental, and social justice perspective.”

for more information contact: Les Zwirn; 317-283-3986;

Bill Beranek; 317- 313-9254;

Carolyn Webster (Rocky Ripple organizer); 317-253-3234;