Planned floodwall draws controversy from community

The newest addition to Butler University’s Holcomb Gardens could be a six-foot high wall running through campus property.

An environmental assessment released Feb. 1 by the Louisville District U.S. Army Corps of Engineers calls for building a floodwall along the Central Canal from Capitol Avenue to the north and west edge of campus that would range from one to six feet high.

The $12 million wall and levee, acting as a flood barrier, would be 8,200 feet long.

The newly proposed plan would leave Rocky Ripple as well as a portion of the university within the floodplain of the White River. This new plan of action has been met with much criticism from Indianapolis residents, including the Rocky Ripple and Butler-Tarkington communities.

“It would be such an intrusive structure in the community,” Neil Bloede, president of the Butler-Tarkington Neighborhood Association said. “In addition to aesthetic oppositions, we think it will irrevocably damage the environment of the canal’s green land.”

Another point of criticism is the lack of protection for the proposed stretch of the canal where the floodwall would cross over at Westfield, Bloede said.

“One point that’s been missed is that the proposed design would leave a large section of the canal to the floodway, which matters because Indy gets so much of their drinking water from the canal,” he said. “If this would happen, the canal would either be eroded or destroyed or we would have to rebuild.”

Bloede said the community is trying to raise awareness among their residents through pamphlets, listserv e-mails and a neighborhood meeting attended by more than 300 people to present options and gain community opinions.

“I think that the Central Canal is a gem for the city of Indianapolis,” Bloede said. “We don’t have oceans, we don’t have mountains, but when people want to look to live in Indianapolis, the Central Canal and the towpath are the attractions and this wall will do a great deal of damage to the canal and to the people wanting to live near or walk along the canal.”

University administration has also been involved in the decision-making process, working with the engineers to design a plan to best fit the university’s needs.

The Environmental Protection Agency  stated the floodwall would be between 3 to 5 feet in height on campus and travel between the canal and the baseball field from 52nd Street to the “high ground” behind the HRC and Hinkle Fieldhouse.

According to the EPA, Butler will be the most affected area of the required 15-foot clearance of trees and vegetation for construction on each side of the floodwall.

“The largest expanse of trees and shrubs is within Butler University property. The proposed floodwall route through this area would skirt the edge of the treeline and then follow an existing path to high ground,” a release said. “Although disturbance would be minimized to the greatest extent possible, it is anticipated that some wildlife will be lost due to construction activities or movement of wildlife.”

Director of Maintenance Gerald Carlson said the best option for the university is for the engineers to reconsider a plan proposed in 1996, where a 2.5 mile  floodwall would not travel directly through campus but would still provide protection.

“If [the new plan] is followed, the flood wall will be installed on campus. Some trees will need to be removed on the east side of Holcomb Gardens,” Carlson said. “If there is a major flood, Holcomb Gardens and the play fields will be flooded.”

Associate Professor of biological sciences and Center for Urban Ecology advisor Travis Ryan expressed his concern for the local campus wildlife, based upon the studies he has conducted over the last 10 years.

“In order to put the floodwall in that area, most of the vegetation that currently sits in that area will have to be removed,” he said. “This will cause a significant problem for the turtles that live in the Central Canal because the area in question is used by a large number of turtles for basking.

“When the wall is built, the turtles will most likely have to relocate to other places in the canal or perhaps move to the White River.”

Previous Vice President of Operations Mike Gardner said, in a letter to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, that the university hopes the previous flood damage reduction plan is revisited. He said it is the best option for the Butler community, as it would allow for utilization of land in the future.

“The original plan is, without question, the most beneficial to Butler University for the longterm,” he said.

Construction is planned to begin in late 2011 or early 2012.