Our friends from Friends of the White River (see what we did there?) sent us the press release below — slowing the standard "we had to destroy the village in order to save it" approach that the city's undertaken when it comes to levee construction and maintenance. If you're unschooled on this one, deets are contained herein:
Indianapolis Agrees To Limit Habitat Destruction Along White River
Settlement Will Improve Public Access and Preserve Significant Forested Corridor
INDIANAPOLIS—Friends of the White River have concluded an administrative challenge to the planned elimination of important wildlife habitat along Indianapolis’s White River levee on the north side after government officials agreed to leave more trees standing and improve river access for recreation. Friends had argued that the Indiana Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) violated state law by allowing the city’s Department of Public Works (DPW) and its agent, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, to proceed with the project despite evidence that vegetation improves levee safety.
“This agreement is a win-win for both recreational users of the White River and nearby homeowners concerned about adequate flood protection,” said Kevin Hardie, executive director of Friends of the White River. Dan Valleskey, president of the not-for-profit organization, added, “We hope that new and improved public access will encourage more Indianapolis residents to take advantage of this fantastic environmental resource.”
Since the early 1990s, DPW has collaborated with the Corps of Engineers to design and build the Indianapolis North Flood Damage Reduction Project, a multi-stage endeavor intended to improve existing levees on the City’s north side. In June 2015, the state’s DNR permitted the City and the Corps to remove over seven and a half acres of vegetation from the portion of the levee, extending from near Broad Ripple to Kessler Boulevard, in order to bring the structure into compliance with federal engineering guidelines.
The Friends organization argued that DNR failed to consider the project’s effects on a variety of local wildlife, including owls, bald eagles, and federally endangered Indiana bats. The organization also challenged the project’s purpose in light of a recent federal law directing the Corps to revisit guidelines requiring the widespread removal of vegetation from levees across the country without consideration of regional differences. A provision of the Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2014, introduced by U.S. Rep. Marlin Stutzman, R-Ind., emphasizes that trees can improve levee safety, while also providing important habitat for imperiled species. Until the Corps revises its policy in accordance with this law, the agency cannot condition project approval or disaster relief on the elimination of existing trees.
This agreement will allow the Corps to proceed with limited vegetation removal, which the agency claims is necessary to preserve public safety, while also ensuring the preservation of a forested corridor along more than 80% of the levee’s 7000-foot length. In addition, the City will provide or improve carry-in public access to the river for canoes, kayaks, and other small watercraft near the Monon Trail and at Friedmann Park.
“Strong levees and healthy habitats aren’t mutually exclusive,” the group noted in its statement. “We need to work together to protect Indianapolis’s last remaining quiet places for future generations.”
The agreement is contingent on federal approval of a mutually satisfactory proposal to deviate from the current, legally ambiguous guidelines in order to preserve the additional trees, expected early next year.