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Projects suggested to safeguard downtown

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In 40 years of business in Franklin, a 5-inch rain had never led to flooding in the downtown wrecker office.

Days before Christmas, Scott Graham, family and employees were moving vehicles to high ground and picking equipment up off the floor as 6 inches of water flooded his towing business. Graham and other downtown business owners are convinced the December flooding wasn’t a fluke. Something has changed in Youngs Creek since the major flood in 2008.

Now they are asking the city to do some maintenance projects in the next six months that could prevent flooding in the low-lying areas of downtown. Most of the projects are simple: keep sticks and debris from clogging up ports under bridges downtown; dig out sand, dirt and muck that has built up around bridges, and repair a storm drain that backs up into downtown when the water level rises.

The projects would protect Graham’s building, other businesses in the low-lying area of downtown, such as Recovery One of Indiana, Hendershot Plumbing Shop and Bastin-Logan Water Services, and some homes. None of the projects is expected to have a high price tag, and each should have an immediate benefit to get water flowing more quickly through the city, Graham said. The most expensive work might cost between $40,000 and $60,000, but he thinks the city could use money left over from disaster aid from the 2008 flood and from the $5 per month stormwater fee paid by city sewer customers.

City officials know that flooding downtown — and in other areas of Franklin — is a problem. That’s why they are bringing in drainage experts to look at all the creeks, ditches and storm drains in the city and identify where improvements could be made. The consultant also will look at the proposals made by the downtown businesses to see if they will actually reduce flooding and make sure it won’t cause flooding in another area.

“What we need to know is factual, what is going to improve the situation and what is not. That’s why we’re taking it to the next level and engaging with stormwater consultants. If you fix a problem here, is it going to pop up somewhere else?” Franklin Mayor Joe McGuinness said.

The goal of the study, which could take several months, is to identify problem areas in city waterways and suggest projects, such as reinforcing banks along the creeks to prevent water from backing up in Franklin.

Graham knows his business sits in a floodway. He knows the city needs to make large-scale improvements to reinforce the banks along Youngs Creek to keep them from eroding into the water, causing dirt to build up around bridges and on the creek bed. But the projects that have been suggested are common-sense fixes, Graham said.

“The South Street bridge is a little over a third blocked up and dammed up. One port is completely blocked. The other port is partially blocked. You don’t have to be an engineer to figure out that if you’ve got three ports and block one up, that’s 33 percent of the water that can’t get through there,” he said.

Since the 2008 flood, more dirt has built up around the city’s bridges, which is raising the water level and causing more debris to get snagged on banks or under bridges, he said. If the city dredges, or digs out some of that additional sediment, that should help water flow more quickly through Franklin, Graham said.

Franklin officials discussed dredging about three years ago and had even partnered with Johnson County government to do the work, since the county is responsible for maintaining all bridges, Franklin Board of Works member and city council member Steve Barnett said. But the work never happened. That type of project would still have an immediate benefit by helping water run through downtown faster, he said.

“I believe it’s got to make a difference. When it’s 3 or 4 inches higher on one side than it is on the other side, there’s something wrong there,” Barnett said.

Two bridges in Franklin are bottlenecking the creek, causing it to flood over the banks and into downtown, Graham said. More dirt underwater and debris is getting trapped at the pedestrian bridge in Province Park and the South Street bridge. Since the water slows on the east end of town, it backs up around South Main Street first and leads to high water in places that haven’t flooded before.

Jim Higginbotham of Recovery One of Indiana can now see sandbars in the creek west of South Main Street that weren’t there before 2008. The water is being pushed up into a low-lying area on the west side of his towing business, which is located just north of the creek at 220 S. Jackson St. It’s a low spot, but water had never flooded that area before 2008.

Other recent projects upstream also may have contributed to the current flooding downtown. When improvements were made to a bridge near Davis Drive on State Road 144, that project helped water move more quickly through that area, Higginbotham said. That reduced overflow there, but now water hits the downtown more quickly than it used to, he said.

Jim Noblitt has lived in the first house south of the South Main Street bridge for 30 years and said it’s not uncommon for the water level in Youngs Creek to top the banks four or five times a year. Before 2008, the water would rise slowly and evenly over about an eight-hour period after a heavy rain, then drop in about another eight hours, he said.

But in December, the water rose quickly around 2 a.m. west of South Main Street. Noblitt’s detached garage had never flooded before 2008, but in December about an inch of water seeped into the building.

“That one was an odd one, and it’s completely different than anything I’ve experienced here. We only got 3 or 4 inches of rain and the snow melt and all, but that’s occurred before,” he said.

Aside from the bridge work, Graham also has suggested getting new drain covers for a stormwater pipe that runs from Madison Street to the creek west of his property, since leaves and other debris frequently clog those covers, stopping water from draining off streets or parking lots. He also wants the city to put a stop valve at the end of that pipe, which would keep water from flowing from the creek back into the pipe and causing it to overflow in the downtown.

“Let’s do some small things, and do this in a very quick manner because we can’t wait another five years. We need some relief right now,” Graham said.

His business hasn’t flooded other times since 2008, but he has noticed that water levels climb higher during small storms and that downtown storm drains around the former Oren Wright building lot don’t work as well, either.

The city already was seeking an engineering group to study all of the city’s creeks, ditches and storm drains to help identify drainage problems, city engineer Travis Underhill said. The downtown business’s suggestions were conveniently timed, since the city was able to add an additional contract to have the engineers look into those projects, he said.

Underhill doesn’t specialize in waterways and also has been in Franklin less than two years, so he’s not familiar with the history of Youngs Creek and changes the 2008 flood might have caused, he said. One of the important things the engineering firm will be able to determine is whether the ideas will have an immediate benefit but also look at whether solving a short-term problem downtown could cause greater problems somewhere else in the city.

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