Greenwood retention ponds will get guardrails

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GREENWOOD - Retention ponds can be dangerous, even deadly, for drivers. But they will get safer in at least one Central Indiana city, which is taking action to protect families.

Greenwood applied for a federal grant in May, through the Highway Safety Improvement Program, after several deadly accidents in retention ponds.

They were just approved for the money and hope to start constructing guard rails next year.

It's an important safety issue for Greenwood resident Gary Mears. Several times a week, Mears spends time pruning and praying at the spot where his stepson lost his life.

He created a memorial near a retention pond along Worthsville Road. "It's tough some nights, but it gives me comfort,"  Mears said.

It's where 23-year-old Michael Farmer drove off the road and into the retention pond in January 2010.

His was one of several retention pond deaths, from Greenwood to Geist to Indianapolis.

"There's still not a day that goes by where you don't think about Michael and the accident and if anything could have been done to prevent it. Shortly thereafter, within 6 or 9 months, there were three other fatalities involving retention ponds, and something needed to be done,"  Mears said.

Now, something has been done. The city of Greenwood just received a $184,000 federal grant to help pay for barriers to prevent cars from going into the water.

Between 12 and 18 of Greenwood's 225 retention ponds will get a fix. They were deemed most risky for drivers.

"We need to do what we can to try and prevent some of these accidents,"  said Greenwood City Engineer Mark Richards.

Each pond is pricey to make safe, especially depending on the placement of the guard rail. In some cases, one piece of land is public property and the other is private. So if engineers determine the guard rail would best protect drivers on private property, the city would have to buy the land.

The city plans to hire a consultant to visit the retention ponds, study potential solutions and decide on the best barrier for each pond..

"It could be a guardrail. It could be some other barrier like mounding. It could be curbing. It could be signage. There are a number of alternatives they will look at," Richards said.

Richards says other cities applied for guardrail grants too, all in hopes of preventing another tragedy.

For Gary Mears, it's something positive out of a still-painful memory.

"I think you always wish it could have been done beforehand and perhaps prevent our tragedy, but I know that if it eliminates one more accident, one more family from going through the pain and suffering that we've gone through, it'll be worth every cent,"  Mears said.

The grant will pay for 90% of the retention pond project. The city is responsible for the remaining 10%. They'll get some help from local students.

Clark Elementary School held a fundraiser this past spring, after a student's father died in a retention pond. The students are donating $3,600 to a specially-created city fund, dedicated to helping pay for guard rails in Greenwood.