CITY MANIPULATES THIEME DRIVE FLOOD CONTROL ISSUE

And now, the rest of the story – the real story that is.  The City, through one of its engineers, continues to misrepresent and manipulate information about flood control measures along Thieme Drive located in the historic district of West Central.  The  City’s goal?  To build a wall along Thieme Drive.

Thieme Drive, one of the few remaining river drives still visible to joggers, bikers, and motorists, suffers from two separate and distinct issues that are the result of its location along the St. Marys River.  The first issue involves river bank erosion.  For a number of years, a section of the river bank located in the 900 block of Thieme Drive at the junction of Thieme Drive and West Washington has been subject to erosion during times of flooding.

To understand why this happens, one must understand river dynamics.  Rivers are not static entities – they are in constant motion.  Over time, a young river begins to slowly deviate from its straight path and take on a more curved “S” form; it begins to meander.  As a river begins to form curves over time, two dynamics are involved.  The water on the outside of the “S” curve along the river bank moves at a faster pace, and the river cuts into the bank carrying away soil and exposing tree roots over time.

On the inside of the river, the water moves at a slower pace and deposits soil.  Thus, one dynamic cuts into the river bank and the opposite dynamic deposits.  Eventually the river forms an exaggerated “S” and doubles back on itself.  This process over time has led to the river bank along the 900 block of Thieme Drive to be slowly eroded to the point where little embankment is left.

To resolve this issue, the Army Corps of Engineers undertook a Section 14 Study under the Corps’ Continuing Authorities Program (CAP).  The Section 14 Study was nearly complete in 2004 when funding ran out and additional funding was not allocated in either 2005 or 2006.   But the Section 14 Study was not the only study done in reference to Thieme Drive.

The second issue that involves Thieme Drive is flooding at what I call the “cup” area located at the intersection of Thieme Drive, West Berry Street, and Nelson Street.   I have lived in my home now for a little over 14 years – first as a renter and now as an owner.  Since the City’s completion of a concrete wall in 2001 just across on the other side protecting the Nebraska Neighborhood, my intersection has flooded five times in six years:  July 2003, June 2004, January 2005, February 2008, and March 2009.

Flood of 1985 – intersection of Thieme Drive, West Berry Street, and Nelson Street – note that the water does not rise to the level of the first floor – the homes in the area were built higher and on hills

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The City would argue that the Nebraska wall has nothing to do with the flooding at Thieme Drive.   And, because it refuses to recognize the impact a wall in one area can have another area, the City continues to throw up more walls and levees, which I believe only increases the odds of more flooding in the Thieme Drive area.  After all, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand that if you prevent water from entering an area where it previously spread out, it will be pushed somewhere else seeking a lower spot on its route.

Intersection of Thieme Drive, West Berry Street, and Nelson Street – my home is the gray one on the corner

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While the flooding is traumatic and aggravating, the water does not enter the living quarters portion of my home.  What little water I do get in my basement is the result of ground flow through the soil and not over it.  The water also does not rise to the level of entering other homes in the area.  Two garages which back onto Thieme Drive usually get water in them.

In all five floods, I have never had to make one claim involving structural damage or personal property damage to my insurance company.  I suspect – but I am not sure – that the other home owners also have not had to make any claims either.

After the Flood of July 2003, the City asked the Army Corps of Engineers to undertake what is called a Section 205 Study under its Continuing Authorities Program (CAP).  Although the study was done under the same Continuing Authorites Program as the Section 14 Study, it was a much broader study and included several different areas along the St. Marys.  The results of the study were released on February 17, 2005, with findings that impacted several areas prone to flooding.  One of those areas was the intersection of Thieme Drive, West Berry Street, and Nelson Street – the area where I live and where the recommendation was construction of an 1,100 feet concrete wall.

Despite the fact that the Section 205 Study found, in reference to Thieme Drive and West Berry, that “the area impacted by the 2003 flood event is a relative small area”, the City pressed ahead with its  goal to wall in Thieme Drive.   I immediately contacted my West Central Association to let them know of my opposition to a wall and  to ask for the Association’s support to prevent a concrete wall along the Drive.  The Association agreed and let its position be known to the City.

Protective retaining walls built in front of two homes on Thieme Drive, just down from me –  a measure I have asked about on a couple of occasions with no response

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The Association then began a series of meetings with City officials to try to come to some resolution about the two different issues involving Thieme Drive.  The Section 14 Study involving river bank erosion was at a standstill due to lack of funds, and neither West Central residents nor the City had any control over this fact.  Thus, the focus was on resolving the flooding issue at the Thieme Drive, West Berry, and Nelson Street intersection.

After a couple of presentations by the City and a charrette conducted during 2006 and 2007, a consensus was reached and a plan was sent to the City through two city officials who participated in the meetings.  The plan was to construct a lower wall of about four-feet in height rather than a 10-foot wall which would completely destroy the river environment.

The lower wall would be constructed with columns set at specific distances along the lower wall into which solid plates could be dropped when necessary to protect from higher river levels.  In addition to the above ground wall, a slurry wall was suggested to block the flow of the water through the ground.

Subsequent to presentation of the plan to the City, the City contracted with a local engineering firm to complete an evaluation of Thieme Drive for the purposes of proceeding with the suggested plan.  Soil borings were taken in six different locations along Thieme Drive.

Imagine my surprise – and no doubt the surprise of others who were involved in the discussions – when the evaluation dated October 26, 2007, of which I have a copy, came back with the findings that the area was fill and construction of the wall – even at a lower level – was outside the scope of what was considered “normal or usual construction”.  In layman’s terms – it wasn’t feasible.

The recommendation was to deem the project economically beyond the City’s ability to implement or to refer the project to the Corps for implementation.  So, when I hear a City official spout to TV cameras or newspaper writers the following statements pointing a finger at West Central, I get irritated:

The city has been aware of the gradual erosion, and says plans to stop it were presented to the neighborhood over the years.

“Nobody could really come to an agreement on they wanted for the flood stabilization, so the projects been dormant now for about a year,” said City of Fort Wayne Engineer David Ross.

The City does a true disservice to its citizens when it allows its officials to manipulate information which is known to be untrue.  I have literally every communication – emails, studies, reports, and letters – over the past four years since the original Section 205 Study that involves the Thieme Drive area.  To know that Mr. Ross has the audacity to go on TV and make statements that simply are not true is extremely disturbing.

The truth is the Section 14 Study stabilization project – the first issue – did not have funding to complete the process and has lain dormant for that reason, not because West Central residents couldn’t make up their minds.  And, the truth is that the plan proposed to the City by West Central residents to resolve flooding at the Thieme Drive intersection – the second issue – could not be implemented because of the nature of the soils and the inability of the City to fund the project, again not because West Central residents couldn’t come to an agreement.

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About Charlotte A. Weybright

I own a home in the historical West Central Neighborhood of Fort Wayne, Indiana. I have four grown sons and nine grandchildren - four grandsons and five granddaughters. I love to work on my home, and I enjoy crafts of all types. But, most of all, I enjoy being involved in political and community issues.
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