INDIANAPOLIS — The City of Indianapolis has plans to buy and demolish 14 properties along the White River for a project to protect Rocky Ripple from the next once-in-100 years flood.
The last such flood was in 1913.
“The current levee was built in 1937,” said Department of Public Works Director Dan Parker. “It is not accredited by the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers. Its not certified by FEMA. It does not provide protection for a 100-year flood. The town would ultimately be under close to 20 feet of water when we have a 100-year flood.”
The existing levee has suffered from decades of maintenance neglect which has left the earthen mound prone to tree and brush growth and the encroachment of homes.
The 14 properties are north of Butler University and include the Town Hall and homes that would be bought and torn down.
“When we found this one, it was like, ‘This is it, this is the home we want to raise our daughter in,’” said Emma Hudelson as she rocked her daughter Fern on the back deck of their home in the 5100 block of Riverview Drive. “We were absolutely shocked to learn that our home would be removed.”
Hudelson’s home is one of the properties which the City is proposing to use to build a levee and flood wall system and stay within its $75 million budget.
“We eliminated a proposal that called for spending over $100 million because that’s just outside of our budget,” said Parker. “The costs associated have gone up just because of the situation that we’re in now compared to three or four years ago, and so the costs for the project have gone up and we gotta try to keep it in budget.”
Under the City’s original proposal, steel walls along the backside of the Riverview Drive properties would have held back the White River while allowing owners to stay in their homes.
“We knew that there would be a wall going through our backyard, that we would lose part of our deck, and we were fine with that,” said Hudelson. “The agreement had always been that no homes would be taken to build this wall.”
But the rising cost of steel to build the flood walls soon pushed the City out of its budget, said Parker, and it became apparent that it would be cheaper to buy out the properties, tear down the homes and build earthen levees that would extend from the riverside to nearly the street.
“Rocky Ripple is in a flood plain. I think there are a lot of people in the community who are interested in flood protection,” said Town Councilor Megan Hulland. “I think there are people who are unsure about the future of the flood insurance program.”
Rocky Ripple’s approximately 300 property owners pay flood insurance that costs between $1200-1700 a year, and some believe that requirement will disappear or be reduced if the flood control system is constructed.
“I chose to live in Rocky Ripple. I knew from day one that I would live with the river. The river has governed our politics and it governs our life,” said Margaret Brabant who’s lived next to the river since 1993. “I will lose my backyard and probably a tree I love very dearly.
“We have to protect our neighbors. We have to protect what is so unique about Rocky Ripple.”
Hulland said one of the soon-to-be-displaced residents has lived in the same house his entire life.
“Its just heartbreaking to think about residents who have lived here for 80 years who are now being asked to possibly be displaced from their homes,” said Hulland. “We do need a flood protection solution for the town of Rocky Ripple. I think what we’re missing from the City is some transparency in regards to the alternatives that were considered or why we’ve gotten to this point where 14 homes are in the crosshairs.”
“We’ll see if the town continues to support moving forward and to try to protect the town from our next 100-year flood,” said Parker. “Those conversations with the town are ongoing.”
Hudelson said she watches four bald eagles nest in a giant sycamore tree on the other side of the river from her home and wonders if her daughter will ever be able to enjoy the serene wildlife of the secluded neighborhood.
“They will be purchased and demolished and puts us in a pretty bad spot because we got into this house at a pretty good time and this is not a good time to be looking for a home,” said Hudelson who’s been promised she will be offered fair market value for the home. “We’ve lost the dream. If we lose this house, we will not be able to stay in this neighborhood unless some absolute miracle happens.”