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August 27, 2013

Bond for flooding mitigation in Clarksville, Jeffersonville stalled

Could impasse lead to litigation?

CLARK COUNTY — Confusion surrounds what will happen with a proposed project to mitigate flooding in the region because of recent action by the Jeffersonville City Council that could spark a lawsuit.

The Jeffersonville-Clarksville Joint Flood Control District has been pursuing a $7.5 million bond to repair the Cane Run and Mill Creek pump stations. The project is part of a plan to help mitigate the flooding in the two municipalities.

Clarksville’s Town Council approved seeking the bond, but Jeffersonville’s City Council voted against the measure at a recent meeting, leaving the district and project engineers in the lurch.

Jennifer Bailey, senior project manager at American Structurepoint, Inc., asked the flood control district where the proposed project stands and what the next step should be.

“Is there anything we can do to clarify any misconceptions or whatever to get the [city] council to help the board move forward?” Bailey asked. “If there is an opportunity to sit down with everybody again and walk through the necessity of this, we’re more than willing,” she said.

But Mayor Mike Moore and corporation Attorney Les Merkley pointed to a meeting that was already held with the city council to help clarify the need for the project.

A joint meeting between the Jeffersonville City Council and the flood control district was held in July. At the meeting the council requested an assurance that Moore would not veto the bond, if they were to approve it. Moore said he would not, but had previously voted against the bond because he said he was concerned about the cost that would be passed along to taxpayers.

In seeking the bond, it was estimated that between Jeffersonville and Clarksville, 11,000 residences would see a rate increase to the taxes paid to the joint flood control district. The expected impact for the owners of a $100,000 home would total about $24.40 in additional cost per year.

“I assumed that once we said that, it would be passed,” Merkley said of Moore offering an assurance that he would not veto the bond.

“I was stumped,” Moore said. “I know Clarksville’s upset.”

Moore said he believes the council is delaying the project to repair the pump station because of a desire to implement the previous administration’s canal plan. But he added that the Cane Run, Mill Creek pump station project predated his administration.

“Even before the canal was going to be built, this project was still here,” Merkley said.

The long-recommended plan to mitigate the flooding was to lower the level at which the pumps in the two stations would turn on, which would remove the water from the ponding area in the municipalities and force the water into the Ohio River. However, the recommendation came back to the flood control district to only lower one pump, for now.

The measure seeking the bond was originally presented to the council in February and after tabling a decision to vote several times; the seventh time the request was presented, it was denied.

“We’ve been working on this for a very long time,” Bailey said. “The longer we delay, the longer the design will take, the longer the permits will take and we’re on the border, we’re going to miss next construction season. I understand there’s a lot of politics going on,” she added.

“It never happens in Clark County,” Merkley said sarcastically. “That would be shocking that you would even speak that. That would be like saying there’s gambling going on in Las Vegas.”

“We’re here to resolve any technical misconceptions,” Bailey responded.

And a new concern was brought up by the flood control district, and Jeffersonville, that Clarksville may pursue legal action because the bond has not been approved.

Nothing has been threatened and Merkley said he has not spoken to Clarksville’s attorney, but because the city has not taken steps necessary to alleviate the flooding and drainage that is heading towards Clarksville he said a lawsuit is a possibility.

“Obviously, my job is to look at what potential liability there is for the city and there is that possibility [of a lawsuit],” he said.

With the potential for litigation, the flood control district is hoping the city council will take another look at approving the bond.

“When people start looking at that liability risk they start easing out of that political mold,” said Dale Popp, a member of the Joint Flood Control Board.

Members of the flood control district and its advising engineers offered to attend an upcoming city council meeting to reiterate and clarify the need for the project.

“We’re too far away from April 2011,” Bailey said, referencing a flood that hit the area that the pump station would help to mitigate. “People are forgetting what those impacts were.”

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