Drainage board hears subdivision complaints

Nearly 40 people who live in adjoining northern Bartholomew neighborhoods pleaded for help Monday in solving ongoing flooding issues in their subdivisions.

Several residents of the Armuth Acres and North Cliff subdivisions spoke to the five-member Bartholomew County Drainage Board Monday night to explain how recent flooding has caused serious damage to their residences and personal property.

But while the drainage board may consider taking steps in the future, board chairman Jeff Schroer said the board cannot consider specific actions until they receive a formal petition from the residents.

The petition must be signed by property owners of at least 10 percent of the affected acreage, or by those who own at least 25 percent of the assessed value, said Bartholomew County Attorney Grant Tucker.

County officials estimate there are about 96 lots in the two subdivisions.

After the petitions are submitted, the drainage board will scheduled a public hearing for a night where all impacted residents can tell the board what their specific issues are, Tucker said.

“Tonight isn’t necessarily that night,” said Tucker, who noted no petitions had been submitted.

After Tucker explained the procedure, a number of residents criticized Tucker for not explaining the procedure when they brought their concerns to the Bartholomew County commissioners on March 4. Tucker said he did give an explanation during that meeting.

Amanda Burdine of East Carol Court told the board she had already collected the signatures of more than 50 homeowners asking for help, but she did not bring the document to the meeting.

Back in 2003, there were enough signatures on a petition to begin the process of addressing the flooding problem in the two housing developments. But several residents withdrew their names from the petition after learning it would cost about $5,000 per person to install an internal drainage system for the area.

Although homeowners would now be given 20 years to pay for the improvements, interest rates would be set at 10 percent a year after the improvements are made, according to Bartholomew County commissioner and drainage board member Carl Lienhoop.

Despite the protocol explained by Tucker, the drainage board did listen to concerns for almost an hour.

Burdine talked about water coming up to the front door of an elderly home-bound neighbor.

Clifford town board member Danny James told the drainage board he believes a perforated tile meant to drain water was not properly installed.

James said the pipe has clogged up and is allowing little to no storm water to come through, resulting in much of the Clifford City Park being flooded in recent months.

In response, Lienhoop said that tile will be cut into and examined before it is extended from County Road 600N down to Road 250E on the east side of Clifford.

Others in the audience put blame on a number of different factors including recent improvements to County Road 600N or nearby farmers irrigating their fields.

A former Columbus fire chief who spent years serving on a flood response committee said there could be multiple reasons for the high water. Dave Allman, who lives on Norris Lane, urged the board to examine new potential causes of flooding.

“Drainage systems may not do what we want, because neighboring properties are higher in elevation,” Allman said.

There were also residents such as Linda Foster of Keith Drive, who said her family’s car was ruined when her husband drove home only to find water up to his waist when getting out of the vehicle.

Phillip Bowman of East Norris Lane, and his father, David Bowman, told the drainage board they felt the county should assume financial responsibility for fixing the problem.

In response, Bartholomew County Surveyor E.R. Gray told the father and son that the subdivisions were constructed in the early- to mid-1960s.

“At the time that Armuth Acres was built, I’d say that drainage requirements were practically non-existent,” Gray said.

Since the soil is mostly sand and gravel, storm water usually just sinks below the ground surface, the surveyor said.

“But when we get rains like we’ve been having, that water table just comes on up and becomes problematic,” Gray said.

At a certain point in the meeting, remarks from the audience became more emotional, with residents who have moved into homes in the subdivision long after the early-2000s asking why they had to suffer because there was no code enforcement back then.

Schroer said board members want to do all they can to help affected residents, as long as it is legally permissible.

The board’s requirement of collecting petitions, where affected homeowners agree to share in the cost, is spelled out in Indiana statutes, he said.

After nearly an hour, the testimony was brought to an end on a positive note by Amy Shehan-Whaley of County Road 600N.

“We could all tell stories all night long about our problems, but we now know we need to begin the process,” Shehan-Whaley said. “Getting the petitions is the next step.”

Lienhoop said the county commissioners will ask a local group, Administrative Resources Association, to investigate whether the project is eligible for a drainage mitigation grant through the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

However, Lienhoop said on March 4 that the competition for the federal grants is so large he does not have much faith that the county will receive any money.

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Bartholomew County participates in the National Flood Insurance Program. Floodplain Manager Cory Fisher of the Columbus/ Bartholomew County Planning Department encourages residents of Armuth Acres and North Cliff subdivisions to reach out to their insurance agent to determine the cost of flood coverage. 

Since Armuth Acres and North Cliff are outside the mapped floodplain, Fischer says residents of both subdivisions will be eligible for reduced rates while maintaining the same coverage.

There is a 30-day waiting period and getting insurance now won’t cover past damage, but it will ensure coverage for future events, Fischer said.