Trees are coming down along White River

Army Corps of Engineers wants action to protect against flooding

By Rick Yencer

MUNCIE, IN - The white Xs on those trees along White River near Tuhey Pool mark death for those and other vegetation to protect the river levee and prevent flooding to nearby property and people.

 It was ironic that the Army Corps of Engineers decided during last summer's drought to inspect the 75 year old levee for maintenance and repair after former Mayor Sharon McShurley and her Muncie Sanitary District boss Tom Bennington did little to comply with a 2009 inspection.

 Now Muncie faces the federal government no longer certifying the levee as operational which would make it difficult and impossible for property owners to get flood insurance. The federal government has been working with the sanitary district in recent months to get trees removed and flood equipment fixed to improve the levee's condition and protect against erosion and flooding.

 Last summer, the district hired Indianapolis engineers DLZ to handle recertifying the levee at an expense not to exceed $350,000. That cost to out of town engineers does not include the hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of work facing city property owners and utility customers.

 Bennington is gone from the sanitary district after Dec. 31 after raising utility rates and storm water assessments to create a multi-million dollar jackpot to comply with another overlooked federal mandate, to separate combined storm and sanitary  sewers. Bennington also was involved in a massive fish kill in Anderson when he ran the wasterwater  plant there before he came to the sanitary district.

 The last city administration also ignored a plan to continue CSO work and found themselves ordered by a court to finish the work and pass on the cost to customers and property owners. Bennington complied by raising storm warer rates 600 percent and adding 60 percent to sewage utility fees over the next five years.

 Barbara Smith, district administrator, said the city had until July 31, 2013 comply with the Army Corps directive and also needed the Indiana Department of Natural Resources approval for any work in the levee. A DNR spokesman could find no evidence that a permit had been filed so far.

 Any trees within levee embankments, within a minimum of 15 feet of the landslide and riverside toes or within 15 feet of a floodwall have to be removed, according to federal guidelines.

 And the Army Corps also asked the city to get back a portion of the floodwall next to Phillips Pool that was sold in 1986. That water near the end of East Washington Street is owned by private individuals.

 Smith saw that issue as a suggestion, although federal law requires river levees and their structures to be held by public hands.

 Mayor Dennis Tyler intends to appoint new sanitary board members and put  Indianapolis engineer Mike Cline on the board last fall. The district is its own separate tax district and spends close to $30 million yearly to maintain sewers, the river and pick up and recycle trash.