Group marks 10-year flood milestone with tree-planting event

An east side Columbus neighborhood ravaged by a devastating flood a decade ago could take on a new look next year under a plan to revitalize the area.

City officials, community members and students were among more than 50 people who turned out Thursday to mark the 10-year anniversary of the 2008 flood in the Pleasant Grove area, where 48 flood-damaged homes were purchased by the city and removed.

The anniversary gathering, which resulted in 10 Serviceberry trees being planted Thursday in an orchard, was an opportunity for many individuals to reflect on the flood, which caused more than $500 million in damage and resulted in the closure of Columbus Regional Hospital for nearly five months.

The June 7, 2008 flood impeded the Columbus Police Department’s ability to help residents, said James Worton, who was police chief at the time and now serves as Bartholomew Superior Court 1 judge.

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“It’s an experience I know I will never forget and I know none of you will either,” Worton said.

Organizers hope to bring back some activity to the Pleasant Grove area, just east of the Haw Creek near the Cummins Technical Center, with plans to redevelop the area into a pollinator park.

“I thought the 10-year anniversary was a good time to reinvigorate the neighborhood,” said Eric Riddle, who wrote “Watershed: Service in the Wake of Disaster” that focused on the local flood.

The city purchased the flood-damaged homes in the Pleasant Grove area and two other properties on the north side of 10th Street through a buyout program provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said Jeff Bergman, city-county planning director.

“It is hard to believe it’s been 10 years,” Bergman said. “That flood of 2008 still dictates what we do as a city.”

Fred Armstrong also recalled the disaster that struck the community a decade ago, which happened when he was mayor of Columbus.

“Ten years ago, it wasn’t the best place to be,” Armstrong said.

“This community came together like no other,” he said, however.

The 10 trees were planted within an orchard that was developed in 2011 by students at Columbus Signature Academy Lincoln Campus, continuing forth their original vision for the area, Riddle said.

Emma Edwards, a sophomore at Columbus Signature Academy – New Tech High School, said she came up with the idea to develop an orchard located on the other side of the proposed pollinator park when she was in the second grade.

Efforts to improve the area will benefit the community as a whole, she said.

Park progress

Plans for the pollinator park, which would encompass 3.5 acres, call for a looped trail system, benches, outdoor classroom space and native grasses and plants that would attract pollinator species.

The pollinator park would require approval by the Columbus Planning Commission and FEMA, Bergman said.

The project could cost $100,000 to $200,000, with final costs determined by the configuration of parking and other final details, said Rachel Kavathe, a landscape designer and owner of Loci Creative in Columbus, who helped create the Pleasant Grove design.

Funding for the project will be pursued through a Creating Places grant available through the Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority. However, Kavathe said the state agency would like to have approval from FEMA before the grant process begins.

Construction could begin in the spring or summer of 2019 with hopes to have approval from the city and FEMA by the end of this year, she said.

The park could create more activity in the neighborhood and become a destination for families and their children, said Julie Bilz, president of the State Street Area Association.

“It will be an absolute wonderful place to come down and enjoy nature,” Bilz said.

The park would be a good compliment to the State Street Revitalization Project, which is occurring nearby in Columbus, she said.

“There’s so many exciting things going on right now,” Bilz said. “It’s absolutely fantastic.”

Those sentiments were echoed by high-school-student Edwards.

“Hopefully we continue to create something beautiful out of it,” Edwards said. “It’s amazing that it’s all coming together.”

[sc:pullout-title pullout-title=”Pollinator Park timeline” ][sc:pullout-text-begin]

Summer 2016: Pleasant Grove development project begins when proponents of park meet with city-county planning department director Jeff Bergman to discuss Federal Emergency Management Agency restrictions on the site.

Fall 2016: Pleasant Grove park concept discussed with Mark Jones, city parks and recreation director.

Spring 2017: Eric Riddle and Rachel Kavathe partner to host Ball State University landscape architecture student projects at Pleasant Grove. Discussions also begin with Landmark Columbus about future projects at Pleasant Grove.

Summer 2017: Formation of Pleasant Grove Development Committee discussed with Bergman, Jones and Mary Ferdon, executive director of administration and community development with the city. Public meeting held at Donner Center Aug. 23.

Fall 2017: Pollinator park presentation held in Jennings County by Andy Ertel, executive director of the Jennings County Soil and Water Conservation District.

Winter 2017-18: Discussions held with Sierra Club to develop pollinator park. Columbus Park Foundation agrees to be fiscal agent for project.

March 2018: Meeting held at Donner Center to hear details about proposed pollinator park.

June 7: Tree-planting event held at south end of Pleasant Grove on 10-year anniversary of flood. Ten Serviceberry trees are planted.

Sources: Eric Riddle, The Republic