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Dan Repay answers question at 4th District Community Meeting

Questions for the Little Calumet River Basin Commission

Contributed By:The 411 News

Gary's 4th District gets answers about watersheds and flooding

Explaining his agency’s purpose to a meeting of residents from Gary’s 4th city council district, Dan Repay, executive director of the Little Calumet River Basin Commission used a map showing the Little Calumet River watershed. This is where we live, he said, on lands where streams, creeks and ditches drain into the Little Calumet and Lake Michigan.

Flowing waters don’t observe political borders; the watershed crosses from Illinois into Gary’s neighboring cities and towns, into Porter and LaPorte counties. And when it rains, especially in urban areas that are heavy with rooftops shedding water, pavements and parking lots collecting water, and not enough soils to absorb it, the watershed turns into a big cup spilling its contents.

The commission, created in 1980, saw its responsibilities mushroom in the new century after nearly 4 days of continuous rain in 2008 led to historic flooding along the Little Calumet River, $88 million dollars in damages, and shutdown of the Borman Expressway (I-80/94) for a week.

Since then, the county agency has built and maintained levees, floodwalls, and pumping stations along the river corridor from Munster to Gary to protect homes, businesses, and highways. Indiana University Northwest lost a building in the 2008 flood. Some of the levee structures along the river now have recreational biking and hiking trails.

It was the concerns of her constituents, said Fourth District City Councilwoman Carolyn Rogers that brought commission members to Gary. Residents in Marshalltown, the subdivision on the city’s far east side are seeing increased flooding.

Marshalltown and Marshalltown Terrace sit in the armpit of the junctions of I-80/94 and I-65, where the Little Calumet comes almost to a halt but meanders under the highways into Lake Station.

You can’t see Marshalltown and its levee structure from ground level or from the ramps of either interstate. It is located behind 72 acres of wetlands, there to retain water during periods of heavy rains helping to further protect the subdivision and highways.

“The effort is there, but the ingenuity is not,” Darnell Blackmon, a Marshalltown resident since childhood, told the commissioners. “I’m not saying you’re trying to flood it. What can the commission do to fix it?”

Blackmon said the wetlands are endangering the community. “The ground water in Marshalltown has been elevated because of the wetlands. We get flooded because our soils can’t take on any more water and backs up in our storm sewers.” He said some storm water sewer drains are even sinking in the area.

Wildlife from the wetlands are spreading into our neighborhood, Blackmon said. “I’ve never before seen so many deer, coyotes, frogs, and snakes; and we’re infested with mosquitoes.” Water levels in the wetlands sometimes rise to tree branches during prolonged downpours.

Repay said levees are diverting water downstream and they are thinking about solutions for it, and a dam near Central Avenue in Marshalltown.

Asked by Bruce McKenzie, “When will Gary residents be able to get flood insurance?” Repay said the commission is working on it.

Geneva Osawje wanted to know “Why are areas flooding that didn’t flood before, like North Gleason Park, where we used to go swimming?” Repay said they are working on saving the park and the boxing club that is housed in the park’s pavilion.

Repay pointed to the growth and expansion of communities like Dyer and Schererville in south Lake County as adding to flooding risks along the Little Calumet. Lands that once were trees and grasses absorbing rains and snowmelts now hold homes and businesses. Instead of integrated storm water sewer systems like older communities to the north, they depend more on retention ponds, ditches and channels connected to the Little Calumet, the Kankakee and other rivers.

Repay defended the commission’s position on Maya Energy, the company planning to operate a waste/recycling facility in Gary on land owned by the commission. A critic of the facility at the meeting, Carolyn McCrady asked, “How does your mission to protect the river and create recreation allow Maya to come in and pave over thirty-four acres at 35th Chase near the Little Calumet River?”

Another critic of the Maya facility, Robert Buggs said the facility will endanger Steel City Academy, a nearby charter school.

Hopefully, Repay said, the school and Maya can come to some agreement, “But if you look at the timeline, Maya Energy was there first.”

Repay said the commission sees the Maya facility as a means of economic development for Gary, bringing jobs and increasing the tax base. “It’s not our decision. The city of Gary approved it and the Indiana Dept. of Environmental Management will make the final decision.”

Dave Castellanos, a commission member from Gary said recreation areas will be created along Gary’s levee structures just like in Highland. “Go over there and see what they’ve done to the Rookery. You’ll see families and children playing, walking and biking. The area has blossomed. Gary is on the forefront of letting this happen.”

L-r, Robert Buggs, Norman Bailey, Dave Castellanos, Carolyn Rogers, and Dan Repay

Story Posted:09/02/2018

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