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Indy North flood gate team awarded USACE Innovation of the Year Award

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Louisville District
Published July 22, 2022

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Commanding General and 55th Chief of Engineers Lt. Gen. Scott Spellmon recently announced the Louisville District Indianapolis North Passive Flood Gate team as a 2022 USACE Innovation of the Year Award winner.

“A great engineering force requires a commitment to innovation, creativity, and forward thinking. We cannot deliver a record program using the same methods and technology of the past,” Lt. Gen. Spellmon said. “The Innovation Awards allow us to recognize the leaders within the Corps for doing something different and making an impact.”

That is exactly what the Louisville team did for the Indianapolis North local flood protection project in Indianapolis, Indiana. The group designed an innovative passive floodwall, that, as of 2017, had never been installed on a USACE flood risk management project.

In 1994 the Louisville District began the study of the North Indianapolis Local Flood Protection Project, and in 2000, construction began.

One of the concerns with the project was the floodwall, as proposed, would result in 600 linear feet of view shed impacts to the 200-year-old Indianapolis canal. The team came up with an innovative solution after working through several different scenarios to accommodate the local sponsor, stakeholders and community concerns.

“Proprietary passive closure systems are becoming more prevalent in private Flood Risk Management (FRM) systems,” said Jacob Sinkhorn, Louisville District project engineer. “Passive closure systems require no human intervention or power to operate. Typically, this is accomplished by making the closure buoyant. With the increased use of passive flood closure systems by private businesses, small municipalities, and cities, many new closure technologies have been developed to provide flood closures that do not require human intervention or mechanical assistance. The most common passive closure is a “bottom hinge” system that lays flat when not in use.”

Private sector manufacturers had already proven the concept and design to be reliable in real world flood events and had shown the systems to be effective even when flooding occurs quickly without intervention. However, while various companies with proprietary passive systems have been installing products for years, none of the systems had produced a continuous passive system even close to the 600 linear feet needed for this stretch of levee system, according to Sinkhorn.

After more research and discussing the new method with other USACE personnel, the team collectively agreed to pursue this innovative approach.

“By researching the applicability and technical adequacy of passive flood gates and allowing the option for their use in the Indianapolis North Levee System, the project delivery team has reduced the operational costs for the City of Indianapolis and removed the need for human intervention during flood events, which in turn reduces flood risks associated with closures,” said Louisville District Commander Col. Eric Crispino in the team’s nomination letter.

The passive flood gate solution allowed the alignment to remain adjacent to the water canal, limit the local sponsor’s emergency actions in this area to patrolling and removing any obstacles to the system, and honor the supplemental environmental impact statement commitment USACE made to mitigate impacts to the canals view shed.

As the project progressed through construction and into the testing phase, the Louisville District was contacted by multiple USACE designers and planners across the enterprise wanting to know more about passive floodwalls, according to Sinkhorn.

“The Indy North Flood Risk Management Project construction is now complete. The stakeholder’s concerns were met with diligent planning and cooperation between USACE, the local sponsor, and the local residents,” Sinkhorn said. “While this project had a very specific set of problems, a passive floodwall system could provide significant benefits for many floodwall issues related to view shed, access, fast rising creeks and streams, and local communities that don’t have the staffing to install closures.”

In addition to Sinkhorn, the Louisville District team included John Bock, Michael Moore, BJ Evans, Nolan Fitch, Chris Manley, Eli Stumler, Terry Sullivan, Ryan Jeffries, Monica Greenwell, Josh Mudd, Tori Collins, Megan Jones, Neil Cash and Jason Koenig.

“As the chief noted in his announcement message, USACE has a record program to deliver which will require innovation and creativity,” Crispino said. “The team on this project demonstrated that spirit.”