Zach Kortea has lived in Ellettsville for about four years but his place is still packed up 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’s moving soon, and the flooding was a factor in that decision.
“You got your whole life piled up in boxes like you’re going to move,” Kortea said. “But really you’re just trying to look out for this again, so you don’t lose anything.”
New town development plans are in the works, and a path to control the flooding problem is intertwined within other beautification and growth efforts. Efforts to curb this environmental problem may begin later this year.
Almost a year after Kirkwood flooding: Meteorologist: Deadly June 18/19 Bloomington storms were a once-in-a-century event
The Envision Ellettsville Vision Plan, which was presented to the community last week, maps out the community’s potential residential and commercial growth. Revitalizing downtown, one of the target areas for improvement, is dependent on controlling the often unexpected and burdensome flooding issues.
“Flooding is a primary challenge for downtown business owners but not because of the physical damage that it could do but because flood insurance is so expensive,” the plan reads. “Most small businesses can’t afford it, therefore they can’t locate downtown.”
What’s Envision Ellettsville? More housing, retail, independence part of Ellettsville’s vision plan
Why does Ellettsville flood and what can be done about it?
Jack’s Defeat Creek runs through a large part of Ellettsville, including its lowest point: downtown. Since most of the land surrounding the town center slopes down, water drains into the area, making flooding worse. The most flooding typically is on Vine Street between Park and Sale streets.
In the past, Mike Farmer, Ellettsville town manager and utilities operation manager, said the town would go years without intense floods. However, he estimated it has gotten worse and has occurred more often within the last decade. It’s not a gentle rain anymore, he said, and the town recently received 2 inches in about 20 minutes. He and other residents have to pay attention every time it rains in case a flood develops.
“It’s a known fact that it’ll flood,” he said. “The joke around here is we have 100-year rains about every three or four months.”
Now that the town has American Rescue Plan Act money and a plan for the future, officials hope to fix this persistent problem through four phases.
A flood mitigation plan developed by the Indianapolis firm, Christopher B. Burke Engineeringwould mitigate flooding seen downtown by about a foot, Farmer said.
This includes constructing wetlands and strategically manipulating the existing waterways through banking. Adding this new infrastructure will create a larger reservoir area, so the water has more room to pool before it breaches and overflows. Some listing will also be included behind affected homes.
In addition to flood mitigation, the plan also will attempt to beautify the area through greenery, a park and boardwalks, all of which is aimed to make downtown a gathering place residents and visitors will gravitate toward, Farmer said.
After the initial phase is complete, the town will look to place box culverts on the county-owned McNeely Street Bridge.
The engineering firm is working to get permits for the project, Farmer said, and then the town will bid the job out. He hopes to break ground in late fall.
While this will not completely solve an unsolvable problem, Farmer said it would substantially reduce flooding in the area. He said work will continue on this infrastructure decades from now, but new funding and direction provides a great opportunity to make a significant impact in the near future.
“This is the first time, I believe, that we’ve put a serious look at trying to mitigate the problem,” Farmer said. “It coincides with our growth, and it opens up some opportunities for development that might have been inhibited because of the flooding.”
Residents hopeful mitigation will succeed
This plan, if executed as written, could make Ellettsville Fire Chief Mike Cornman and his department’s lives much easier.
Cornman, a lifelong resident, said the town is on the right track to address the flooding problem. His department has dealt with a number of flood rescues and emergencies over the years, but that experience made them more capable and better at responding, he said.
“We expect anything,” he said. “It’s always challenging, but we have a decent handle on it.”
Many times, Cornman said, people will drive on flooded streets or medical emergencies will occur, making it harder 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 a flood, Cornman said residents need to be weather aware and pay attention to warnings. He said people shouldn’t drive into rushing or still water, even if others are doing it.
Not all flooding in Ellettsville is downtown though. Cornman said there are dips in the land or pockets with poor drainage that are known to fill with water.
Resident Becky Kehrberg lives near one of those areas where water pools. What is normally a greenspace 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 worried it presents a risk, specifically for children.
When it’s raining and she drives downtown, Kehrberg tries to avoid the right lane since it can pool water. She has seen flooded streets filled with debris and water collecting in the area around the Old Town Hall.
She isn’t optimistic a solution exists. Current plans sound like they could make a difference, she said, but she doesn’t see how it’s possible.
Even though he’s moving and likely won’t see the benefits of flood mitigation efforts, Kortea said he hopes the town finds a way to alleviate the flooding problem, so residents can stop worrying about it.
“The best way you get to know your neighbors is during an emergency as they’re helping each other out,” he said. “It sucks we had to meet that way, but there’s a lot of good people there that it would help them out a lot.”