Greenwood looks at guard rails for retention ponds

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Jennie Runevitch/Eyewitness News

Greenwood - Severe weather often makes retention ponds more dangerous as the water goes up and drivers' visibility goes down. Just in the past few weeks, several people died after their vehicle went into a pond.

The city of Greenwood has more than 100 retention ponds, most without barriers from the road. Now they're considering putting up guard rails to block cars from going in the water.

"It's just a huge gap in our lives now. A hole that will never be filled," said Gary Mears.

Flowers and a cross serve as solemn reminders of where 23-year-old Michael Farmer drove off the road and into a retention pond along Worthsville Road. Despite divers' best efforts, Farmer died from the January crash. His is one of several recent retention pond deaths from Greenwood to Geist to Indianapolis.

Adding in the rescues that went well, "over the last couple years, I think we've probably been on 10 or 12 at least," said James Sipes, Greenwood fire chief.

But in Greenwood, that may change.

Michael Farmer's stepfather encouraged city leaders to give drivers added protection.

"I knew something needed to be done because Michael would want something done," said Mears.

The city is considering the addition of guard rails to its 105 retention ponds currently without barriers. Planners are in the middle of prioritizing the ponds to see which are most risky.

"We're basing that on level of traffic. We're also looking at the distance that a retention pond is from the edge of the pavement," said Mark Richards, Greenwood Community Development Services Director.

Right now, the city of Greenwood does have a handful of ponds protected by guard rails. Firefighters say the safety rails have made a real difference.

"Any time we can eliminate that risk between the roadway and the pond and help to limit and protect people from ending up in those situations, it improves everybody's safety," said Sipes.

But there are logistical issues. Some ponds are on private property, and barriers will be costly.

"We're looking at about $750,000," said Richards.

But the price doesn't put off Mike Farmer's stepfather.

"I don't know how many lives it takes before money doesn't become an issue," said Mears.

He says safety should come first.

The study ranking the danger of Greenwood's retention ponds should be finished by mid-May. Then it will be up to the city council to determine which will get barriers and how they'll pay for them.

Richards says it would be a long-term project to protect every pond, likely taking several years.

Surviving a crash in water