Indianapolis asks for delay on flood wall decision


A decision is close on a long-running and very contentious issue: how to best protect several north side neighborhoods from a devastating flood.

October 31 is the last day the Army Corps of Engineers is set to take public comment on the Corps' proposals before issuing a final decision, but the city's Department of Public Works has asked for more time to take a closer look at another option.

Donna Floyd, who lives in Rocky Ripple, has a huge stake in what happens.  Rocky Ripple, which sits along the White River, is in a flood plain.

"I love it here.  It's like the 1950s when people used to sit on their porch and take walks with their families and dogs," said Floyd. But she worries about the community's future.

"Everyone in the neighborhood has been improving their homes all summer, then we're hit with a big bombshell last week and we're like, 'What?' Where's the common sense in life anymore?" she asked.

She and her neighbors found out that FEMA was phasing out federal flood insurance subsidies for homeowners in flood plains, with premiums skyrocketing.

"Now we can't even sell our homes, because who is going to come in with cash to buy in a neighborhood that isn't going to be protected from floods?" she said.

Word that the Corps is close to a decision on a flood protection plan should come as good news, but as Floyd knows, "our whole neighborhood has been excluded.  Everyone's protected except Rocky Ripple."

That's because some 20 years ago, Rocky Ripple opted out of flood protection. While the sentiment among residents has since changed, the Corps has said including them now would add millions of dollars to the cost of flood control and delay it further.

But the Corps' alternatives to building a new levee around Rocky Ripple haven't been well-received.  Initially, the Corps proposed building a flood wall along Westfield Boulevard and the Central Canal, running from Butler University north to Capitol Avenue, with a flood gate crossing the canal. The plan was not a popular one as it would have a negative impact on the natural beauty of the canal.

In June, the Corps returned with a handful of other options, including a series of flood walls north of the Riviera Club, crossing Illinois and Westfield Boulevard adjacent to the Chase Bank.

Dennis Faulkenberg, who's active with the Butler-Tarkington Neighborhood Association, said of the proposals, "We want it done, but we want it done right. We want flood protection for everyone but not if it destroys neighborhoods or the canal."

Building a flood wall along Westfield would require taking out hundreds of trees along the canal, which has a popular trail on its west bank.

Citizens Energy has also gone on record opposing the Corps' current proposals because of the impact on the canal which is a primary source of drinking water for Indianapolis.

In a letter to the Corps, Citizens said while it "fully supports the flood control concerns being addressed," it encourages the Corps to "evaluate options that would provide enhanced flood protection for the Central Canal, our sewer interceptor and local property owners."

Citizens noted a plan that "aligns with the west bank of the Central Canal tow path would accomplish these objectives."

The so-called "west bank option" is one Citizens and DPW have begun analyzing as a viable alternative.  It's actually a plan that Citizens proposed in 1999 and involves building up and reinforcing certain parts of the tow path to act as a levee.

Faulkenberg said while not perfect, "it protects the canal and the neighborhoods and sets Rocky Ripple up for good flood protection once the city, DPW and maybe the Corps decide how to go around Rocky Ripple and protect them too."

DPW has said they would work with Rocky Ripple to repair their levee once a larger plan has been chosen. 

With flood insurance rates skyrocketing and no way to sell her house, Floyd says including Rocky Ripple now, not down the road, is the only way to save her neighborhood.

"But from the look of things," she said, "we won't have much of a chance."

Others living in flood plains like Warfleigh, which has a levee, are eager to see the rest of the project finished.  Until it is, they're still designated a "flood plain," and like Rocky Ripple fear they will be unable to sell their homes.

In making its request, the city has asked the Corps to "delay issuing a Record of Decision indefinitely" to allow further study of the west bank option.  It's unclear how quickly the Corps will respond.

No matter what plan the Corps ultimately chooses, the project will still need to be funded and it will still take a number of years to complete, which does little if anything for people worried about rapidly rising insurance rates.