Colonel Luke Leonard in a recent trip to Indy performed his duty of putting a face to the "faceless bureaucrat" to whom opponents of the Corps' proposed floodwall plan have been writing letters.
He listened to comments for over two hours last Thursday at Meridian United Methodist Church. He answered few questions, but his posture and eye contact remained unwavering throughout the event. He opened by thanking the Indianapolis Department of Public Works and stating that, after extensive research, the Corps recommends the Westfield Boulevard alignment. This proposal would exclude the 330-home neighborhood of Rocky Ripple from flood protection as well as require the removal of trees and vegetation along the Canal Towpath from the Warfleigh neighborhood to the Butler University campus.
Bonnie Jennings, the Corps' project manager for this plan, was calm and firm during the crowded open house leading up to the hearing as she fielded hundreds of questions from concerned residents. She stated that the purpose of the meeting was to explain the project and take comments. When asked about the dangers posed to Rocky Ripple, she insisted, "We do care about Rocky Ripple." She went on to explain that residents would receive a two to three day advanced notice to evacuate in the event of a flood, so that no one would get "walled in." When questioned about concerns regarding the proposed plan's effects on property values in that neighborhood, she did not provide a direct answer, instead stating that Rocky Ripple already was considered a floodplain.
The project began in response to a White River flooding event in 1991. The alignment proposed currently would become the third and final phase of that project. The basis of the Col. Leonard's recommendation of the Westfield Boulevard alignment over others is that it is "not economically viable" to include Rocky Ripple in the protection offered through the floodwall. Apparently, the cost of inclusion outweighs the benefits. After introducing these key points, Col. Leonard stated that a final decision would be made by December 2012. He then invited the public to comment.
State Rep. Ed Delaney was the first to speak up, stating that his "core concern" was that the people of Rocky Ripple be protected. State Sen. Greg Taylor spoke next, claiming Rocky Ripple as "... an area I've come to know and love." He expressed dismay over the potential for property values in that area to decline if the floodwall is built as planned, and said that he hoped the Corps would " ...err on the side of doing no harm."
Carla Gaff-Clark, a member of the Rocky Ripple town council, implored the Corps to work with them on this project: "In '94 and '96, when we didn't want in, things were different ... at no time did Rocky Ripple say 'no' to flood protection."
One by one, citizens of Indianapolis stood up to speak out. Not a single person spoke in favor of the floodwall as currently recommended. A common theme was unease over a lack of clarity regarding the cost-benefit analysis provided in the DSEIS made public by the Corps. Many wanted to know why, exactly, it would be such an economic difficulty to include Rocky Ripple in the plan. Included among the other numerous concerns were the effect that the wall would have on wildlife and the structural integrity of the canal, which supplies 60 percent of Indianapolis' drinking water.
Travis Ryan, a professor of conservation biology at Butler University, felt that the wall would be a "true threat to wildlife" and that the DSEIS underestimates the impacts that the wall will have. He said his earlier letters to the Corps regarding his concerns went unanswered.
Mary Walker, a 40-year member and former president of the Butler-Tarkington Neighborhood Association, received a round of applause when she matter-of-factly stated "The canal doesn't flood. The river is what floods ... either side of the canal is the wrong place to build a levee." She called for preservation of the canal, as well as the Butler University athletic fields, the Butler prairie, carillon, and Holcomb Gardens.
In a brief interview after the hearing, Col. Leonard said he felt that the hearing went well, allowing him to "get a feeling for the passion" of the community and listen to information he hadn't heard before. He acknowledged the concern about the economics of the project, stating that he needed to be "more transparent" with his estimates because "Rocky Ripple doesn't buy it or understand it . . . and this won't go away until they do."
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