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Gauges stir up debate

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For the first time in three years, Columbus will not be paying for maintaining stream flow stage gauges designed to warn the city of a catastrophic flood.

But Columbus Regional Hospital, which paid for the satellite-linked gauges along Haw Creek at County Roads 450N and 700N, has agreed to pick up the city’s portion of the maintenance cost, according to the Bartholomew County Commissioners.

The gauges, installed in the summer of 2010, send data about water levels to a satellite. Information on a pending flood is received by the U.S. Geological Survey and the National Weather Service and relayed to Bartholomew County Emergency Management.

The gauges along Haw Creek are designed to provide Columbus with as much as four hours warning before heavy floodwaters arrive.

The annual cost to keep the solar-powered gauges functioning properly is $25,000. While the federal government picks up $11,700 of that cost, the city and county had split the remaining $14,300 during the past few years.

County Commissioners President Larry Kleinhenz said it was the city’s flood committee that generated the initial effort to obtain the gauges and install them in the northern part of the county.

“This year, there was a little bit of a communication problem,” Kleinhenz said. “It came down to the deadline, and we just couldn’t get a commitment from the city. So we called the hospital, and they agreed to pick up the city’s cost.”

First-year Columbus Mayor Kristen Brown, however, said the county never requested the joint payment.

“This is the first I’ve heard of it,” Brown said Tuesday. “We’ve made no conscious decision not to do it.”

However, the mayor added that since city residents pay their full share of county taxes, the residents of Columbus would be “double-taxed” if the city again shared the maintenance cost for the gauges.

Brown also pointed out the city is investing $118,000 in a comprehensive flood management plan. Once completed, the community will know exactly how many gauges are needed and where they should be located for maximum warning time, according to the mayor.

“I’ll give (Brown) the benefit of the doubt,” Kleinhenz said. “This is typical of a new administration. You question everything, and sometimes, you don’t totally understand how we got to where we are, and why.”

But Kleinhenz is hopeful an agreement can be reached next year where the city, county and the hospital each pay approximately $4,767 annually to keep the flood warning system in good working order.

Columbus Regional Hospital, which suffered $180 million in damages from the 2008 flood, spent $16,000 to buy the gauges. However, the hospital was not required to invest in annual maintenance.

Additional gauges installed along four other rivers in Bartholomew County were purchased and are maintained by other organizations.

“During a recent meeting, county commissioners expressed concern over whether flood walls being built by Cummins will extend far enough to provide protection to the $4.8 million Childhood Development Center,” Bartholomew County Emergency Management Director Dennis Moats said. Because the flood wall is a private project, he couldn’t answer the commissioners’ inquiries.

“We were fortunate that the flood of 2008 came on a Saturday,” Moats said. “There weren’t any children present when the high water hit the center.

“The flood left about a foot of water in the child care facility. After extensive remodeling, the center reopened in May 2011. The updated building has early flood warning signals, a revised emergency evacuation plan and flood prevention measures.”

Cummins, which suffered an estimated $220 million in property damage in 2008, recently installed a flood wall at the Technical Center on the southeast side of Haw Creek, near State Street and Central Avenue.

Construction is expected to get under way this month on a similar project designed to protect the Columbus Engine Plant on Central Avenue, the opposite side of the creek from the Tech Center.

Gauge locations

Haw Creek

Off County Road 450N in the Nortonburg area and along County Road 700N, just west of Hope. Monitored by the U.S. Geological Survey and the National Weather Service.

Clifty Creek

In Hartsville, monitored by the Indiana Department of Natural Resources.

Clifty Creek

Near the junction of State Roads 7 and 46. Monitored by the Clifty Creek Watershed Project.

Flatrock River

At the bridge north of Mill Race Park on Indianapolis Road. Monitored by the Indiana Department of Transportation.

Driftwood River

Hendricks Ford Bridge off County Road 950N. Monitored by the Indiana Water Science Center.

East Fork of White River

Columbus Water Treatment Plant, off State Road 11. Monitored by the Indiana Department of Transportation.

Source: Columbus USDA Service Center

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