Zach Kortea has lived in Ellettsville for about four years but his place is still packed in plastic containers and his walls are bare.
It’s not that he hasn’t unpacked, but rather he can’t predict the next time his downtown apartment will flood, displacing him and damaging his belongings. He is moving soon, and the flood was a factor in that decision.
“You have your whole life piled up in boxes as if you were moving,” Kortea said. “But really you’re just trying to find this again so you don’t lose anything.”
New urban development plans are in the works, and a way to control the flooding problem is intertwined within other beautification and growth efforts. Efforts to curb this environmental problem may begin later this year.
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La See Ellettsville Vision Plan, which was introduced to the community last week, maps the potential housing and business growth of the community. Revitalizing the city center, one of the target areas for improvement, depends on controlling the often unexpected and burdensome flooding issues.
“Flooding is a major challenge for downtown business owners but not because of the physical damage it could do but because flood insurance is so expensive,” the plan reads. “Most small businesses can’t afford it, so they can’t locate downtown.”
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Why is Ellettsville flooding and what can be done about it?
Jack’s Defeat Creek runs through much of Ellettsville, including its lowest point: downtown. As most of the land surrounding the city center slopes down, water drains into the area, making flooding worse. The most flooding is typically on Vine Street between Park and Sale streets.
In the past, Mike Farmer, mayor of Ellettsville and chief operating officer, said the city would spend years without intense flooding. However, he estimated that it had worsened and occurred more frequently within the last decade. There is no more gentle rain, he said, and the city has just received 2 inches in about 20 minutes. He and other residents must be careful every time it rains in case a flood develops.
“It is known that it will flood,” he said. “The joke here is that we have 100-year rains about every three or four months.”
Now that the city has American Rescue Plan Act money and plan for the future, officials hope to fix this persistent problem through four phases.
Flood mitigation plan developed by the Indianapolis company, Christopher B. Burke Engineeringwould alleviate flooding seen in the city center at about a foot, Farmer said.
This includes building wetlands and strategically managing the existing waterways through banking. Adding this new infrastructure will create a larger reservoir, so the water has more room to swim before it breaks and overflows. Some slope will also be included behind affected homes.
In addition to mitigating flooding, the plan will also try to beautify the area with greenery, a park and boardwalks, all of which aim to make the downtown a meeting place to which residents and visitors will gravitate, Farmer said.
Once the initial phase is complete, the city will look to place box subducts on the district-owned McNeely Street Bridge.
The engineers are working to get permits for the project, Farmer said, and then the city will offer the work. He hopes to break ground in late fall.
Although this will not completely solve an unsolvable problem, Farmer said it would significantly reduce flooding in the area. He said work will continue on this infrastructure in decades to come, but new funding and direction give a great opportunity to make a major impact in the near future.
“This is the first time, I think, we are seriously looking to try to alleviate the problem,” Farmer said. “It coincides with our growth, and it opens up a number of opportunities for development that may have been hampered by the flood.”
Residents hopeful mitigation will succeed
This plan, if implemented as written, could make Ellettsville Fire Chief Mike Cornman and the lives of his department much easier.
Cornman, a lifelong resident, said the town is on the right track to deal with the flood problem. His department has dealt with a number of flood rescues and crises over the years, but that experience has made them more capable and better at responding, he said.
“We’re expecting anything,” he said. “It’s always hard, but we have a decent handle on it.”
Many times, Cornman said, people will drive on flooded streets or there will be medical emergencies, making it difficult for that person to get help. Sometimes, he said, it’s just that people get stuck in the wrong place at the wrong time.
As for advice for those who could be affected by flooding, Cornman said residents should be aware of weather and heed warnings. He said people should not drive in fast or still water, even if others do.
However, not all flooding in Ellettsville is downtown. Cornman said there are soaks in the ground or pockets with poor drainage that can fill with water.
Resident Becky Kehrberg lives near one of those areas where water pools. What is normally a green space will begin to fill with water and could be considered a temporary pond. A drain was installed, but she said the problem persists. She said she and others are concerned that it poses a risk, specifically for children.
When it rains and she drives downtown, Kehrberg tries to avoid the right lane because it can pool water. She saw flooded streets filled with debris and water collection in the area around the Old Town Hall.
She is not optimistic that a solution exists. Current plans sound like they could make a difference, she said, but she doesn’t see how that’s possible.
Even if he moves and probably won’t see the benefits of flood mitigation efforts, Kortea said he hopes the city will find a way to alleviate the flood problem, so residents can stop worrying about it.
“The best way to get to know your neighbors is during a crisis because they are helping each other,” he said. “It’s awful that we had to meet like that, but there are so many good people out there that it would help them a lot.”