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Feather Creek project right as rain

Published Dec. 19, 2013
The Feather Creek channel was widened as part of a flood risk management project.

The Feather Creek channel was widened as part of a flood risk management project.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Feather Creek, Clinton, Ind., Flood Risk Management Project is complete. Amy Babey, Louisville District plan formulation section chief, calls the project the "trifecta of partnerships." A concerted effort from stakeholders, the local sponsor and local and federal government brought all the pieces together for the residents of Clinton.

This project had been ongoing since the 1980s. History revealed devastating headwater flooding in the area.

"The most recent significant flood occurred in 1985, but damages to structures along Feather Creek occurred following a two-year flood event," said Babey. After a federal interest determination that the recommended plan met the intent for projects under Section 205 of the Continuing Authorities Program (CAP) for Small Flood Control Projects, the Corps proceeded with the design and construction of the channel-widening project. The Feather Creek channel was widened for a distance of approximately 3,300 linear feet from the North Street Bridge to the railroad bridge. The project also includes a flood warning system and an evacuation plan.

But the project was not without its challenges. Between 2002 and 2012, fiscal constraints and issues with real estate acquisition delayed the project. Even so, the project was able to remain active. Federal funds were allocated in June 2011 which allowed the completion of the survey of the existing channel alignment and initiation of hydraulics and hydrology evaluation of survey data. However, all federal CAP funds nationwide not associated with a construction contract were revoked from projects at the end of fiscal year 2011, delaying the project once again.

In 2012, Corps Louisville District Commander Col. Luke Leonard and his staff attended a public meeting in Clinton at the request of residents and the congressional delegation representing the Clinton area. The meeting allowed residents to voice their concerns over flooding in the area. Residents displayed photos of the flood waters in their homes and spoke about rapidly rising waters during a flood creating life-threatening scenarios. One resident even said that row boats had been used for rescues during flooding. These descriptions did not fall on deaf ears, according to Babey.

Within a few months of the public meeting, the Corps secured the Federal funding for the project, which was 75 percent of the total cost. The City of Clinton funded the remaining 25 percent—no easy task, considering the size of the community. Officials in the City of Clinton worked hard despite national budget issues and were able to reach out for a Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) from the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs (IOCRA).

Kathleen Weissenberger, director of the Grant Services Division for IOCRA, commented, "The Feather Creek improvements are critical to the health, safety and quality of life for Clinton residents. When city leadership and residents brought this vital project to the forefront, we were pleased to utilize our CDBG-Disaster Recovery funds to partner with the city and the Army Corps of Engineers to address the severe flooding problems."

Once the construction contract was awarded in September 2012, the channel-widening project commenced in earnest. In the spring of 2013, during construction, heavy rains fell at the project site, inundating the Feather Creek channel. But even with only 30 percent of the project complete, the reduced flooding and improvements to the channel were already making a difference in Clinton.

Clinton Mayor Jack Gilfoy said, "I have talked to the people that live in the Feather Creek area, and twice this past summer they stated that they would have had water in their yards and in their homes if this project had not been completed....It has improved the appearance, health and safety of the community overall.

"If it was not for the funding from the Army Corps of Engineers and the Indiana Office of Community & Rural Affairs, this project would not have turned into a reality. Not only has this project improved the quality of life for the City but it will stimulate the economy in the long run."

Another issue associated with the channel-widening involved potential impacts to the stability of a home adjacent to a retaining wall being constructed along the Feather Creek channel. The project was modified to underpin portions of the home and to construct a fence to alleviate safety concerns along the retaining wall.

To mitigate for impacts to the riparian corridor along Feather Creek, the project also included tree planting in areas along the channel corridor.

Open communication with the local sponsor, congressional interests and residents allowed the Feather Creek project to stay on course even with the fiscal delays. The importance of public meetings in Clinton could not be stressed enough, said Babey. The Corps was transparent and straight forward with residents, businesses and other stakeholders, emphasizing that slow and steady wins the race.

The Corps’ message? The Corps would complete the project and provide flood damage reduction benefits.

And it did.