Early Studies (1946, 1996) and the Project Cooperation Agreement (2000)
Major flooding along the White River in Indianapolis occurred in 1913, 1937, 1943, 1957, 1958, 1965, 1991, 2002, 2005 and 2007. Area flooding places the lives and homes of residents at risk. The Flood Control Act (FCA) of 1936, as amended by the FCA of 1946, authorized the US Army Corps of Engineers, Louisville District (Corps) to construct a flood protection project in the Warfleigh area of Indianapolis in accordance with a 1946 report by the Corps’ Chief Engineer. Project implementation languished for years until interest in the project revived in the early 1990’s, in part due to flooding that caused extensive property damage and resulted in several life threatening injuries. In response, the Corps began to conduct a General Reevaluation study and documented its results in a 1996 General Reevaluation Report (GRR) and Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) entitled the “Indianapolis North Flood Damage Reduction Feasibility Study.” The Corps released its Record of Decision (ROD) on the project on September 8, 1997, and executed a Project Cooperation Agreement with the City of Indianapolis (“City”) and Department of the Army on December 7, 2000.
The 1996 Indianapolis North Flood Damage Reduction Study evaluated the feasibility of constructing flood damage reduction measures along seven different stream reaches of the White River, including Rocky Ripple, South Warfleigh, Warfleigh, Monon-Broad Ripple and Ravenswood. The study determined flood damage reduction measures were not feasible for Ravenswood and various other stream reaches. Additionally, the Town of Rocky Ripple, Indiana did not support the design and scope of the proposed flood protection and they withdrew from the project. Accordingly, the study recommended, and ultimately approved for implementation, a plan to construct a combination of earthen levees and floodwalls to protect the communities of Monon-Broad Ripple, Warfleigh and South Warfleigh.
The recommended plan included construction of 0.44 miles of levee and 2.5 miles of floodwall. When completed, the project would provide a minimum level of flood protection to an annual 0.35 percent chance of exceedance (300-year level of flood protection). The entire project was divided into three phases (Phase 3A, 3B & 3C) due to funding constraints and real estate acquisition concerns. Phase 3A, the Warfleigh Section, was constructed between September 2002 and July 2004. Phase 3C, the Monon-Broad Ripple Section was completed in 2009. Phase 3B, known as the South Warfleigh Section, involves construction of floodwall and earthen levee, along the east bank of the White River, from Kessler Boulevard to termination on high ground at the downstream end of the project. However, the 1996 GRR and EIS did not define a specific point of termination for the project. Additionally, the Corps confronted certain geotechnical issues during the design of the Phase 3B section. As a result, while initial portions of Phase 3B construction are complete (roughly to a private property known as the “Riviera Club”), the project has stalled does not yet terminate on high ground at the downstream end of the project. The lives and homes of area residents remain at risk.
The Phase 3B Studies – Terminating the Project on High Ground (2011–2016)
The Corps has extensively analyzed different ways to complete the downstream end of the project, now referred to as the “Phase 3B Alignment.” The Corps’ initial analysis included a floodwall adjacent to the Citizens Water Canal west bank towpath and terminating along the towpath embankment near the Butler University athletic fields. However, the Corps determined this course was technically and economically infeasible due to the prevailing soil conditions in the area (the City of Indianapolis re-examined this alternative in 2015 and it again proved infeasible). Consequently, the Corps developed and analyzed a new alternative, the “Proposed Action,” that would cross the Citizens Water Canal from the Riviera Club property, run parallel to Westfield Boulevard, and end at Butler University. In January of 2011, the Corps prepared an Environmental Assessment (EA) evaluating this new Proposed Action. The Corps circulated the EA for review between February and April of 2011. Based on the numerous comments received, the Corps prepared in 2012 a new Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (DSEIS) evaluating the Proposed Action.
The Corps’ 2012 DSEIS examined both the Proposed Action, a variation of the Proposed Action – the “Westfield Boulevard Alternative,” two new alternatives to the Proposed Action – the “56th Street” and the “Illinois Street” variations, and included a full re-examination of the Rocky Ripple Alternative. The Corps held a public meeting on the DSEIS in August 2012 and received comments through September 2012. The Corps in June 2013 released its Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (FSEIS) evaluating concerns expressed regarding the 2012 DSEIS, as well as additional information acquired since the preparation of the DSEIS. Based on these considerations, the Corps recommended in its 2013 FSEIS the Westfield Boulevard Alternative as its final Proposed Action for the remaining section of the Phase 3B Alignment. The Corps at that time also presented the Illinois Street Variation as an additional, feasible alternative.
The Westfield Boulevard and Illinois Street Variations
The Corps’ 2013 FSEIS identifies the “Illinois Street Variation” and the “Westfield Boulevard Alternative” as alternatives for completing the Phase 3B alignment in light of the Project’s purpose — to maximize flood risk management in a way that is both technically and economically feasible. The Corps’ selected these alternatives for completing the Project based on the following considerations:
• The selected alternatives are consistent with the Corps’ congressional authorization;
• The selected alternatives minimally impact the environment and protect, preserve, and enhance historic, cultural and natural resources while fulfilling the purpose and need for the Project; and
• The selected alternatives provide positive net benefits.
The Illinois Street Variation consists of a floodwall that would begin to the north of the Riviera Club property, head eastward across North Illinois Street, the Citizens Water Canal and Westfield Boulevard, and terminate on high ground just east of Chase Bank. The Westfield Boulevard Alternative, the City’s chosen alternative, consists of a floodwall that would begin at the south end of the Riviera Club property, cross the Citizens Water Canal near the intersection of Westfield Boulevard and North Capitol Avenue, extend southward running between the Canal and Westfield Boulevard, and terminate on high ground at Butler University.
The Final Record of Decision (2014) – Click HERE for PDF
In June 2014, the Corps released its final decisions related to the findings and determinations for the Indianapolis North Flood Damage Reduction Project. This document serves as the Corps’ record of decision (ROD) in the matter. The Corps’ decision took into account: (1) the comments and concerns of stakeholders, (2) the public interest, (3) the 1996 GRR and EIS, (4) the 1997 ROD, (5) the 2012 DSEIS, and (6) the 2013 FSEIS. Based on these considerations, and the City’s objection to the Illinois Street Variation, the Corps selects the Westfield Boulevard Alternative as its final Phase 3B Proposed Action. This Phase 3B levee alignment maintains the Proposed Action from the 2012 DEIS, was addressed in the 1996 GRR, was fully vetted in the corresponding EIS, and was ultimately adopted under the 1997 ROD. The City chose in 2015 the Westfield Boulevard Alternative as its preferred alternative.
Congress Imposes Additional Hardship on At-risk Citizens (2012)
While the City of Indianapolis allows the lives and homes of its citizens to remain at risk, members of Congress acted in 2012 to impose additional hardship upon affected residents. Namely, Congress in 2012 passed, and the President enacted, the Biggert-Waters Act of 2012. The Biggert-Waters Act (“Act”) fundamentally transformed the terms and conditions of the program through which the federal government makes flood insurance available to homeowners (National Flood Insurance Program). Notably, the Act sought to move rates charged to homeowners for flood insurance away from subsidized rates and towards full-risk rates. Initially upon passage of the Act, homeowners faced unsustainable rate increases. The Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act of 2014 (“Affordability Act”) attempted to slow this rate of increase in premiums, but did not eliminate them, and rates will still move over time away from subsidized rates towards full-risk rates. The Affordability Act does, however, certain provisions that seek to maintain the affordability of flood insurance premiums and rates.
United States Army Corps of Engineers, Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement for Indianapolis North Flood Damage Reduction Project, Marion County, Indiana (June 2013).
United States Army Corps of Engineers, Record of Decision for Indianapolis North Flood Damage Reduction Project, Marion County, Indiana (June 27, 2014).
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