JEFFERSONVILLE — Residents of downtown Jeffersonville will see work start on a new water drainage system that will alleviate flooding issues in the area by early next year.

The $4 million project centered between Eighth and Ninth streets and Indiana and Ohio avenues was first approved by the Jeffersonville Redevelopment Commission last fall.

The plan was to install underground retention basins to redirect water from pooling areas in the low-lying section of the city. A park will be built on top of the system at a later date.

"I was born in 1964, and that's just always been a flood-prone area," Mayor Mike Moore said. "It's the low point of the city. It's in a bowl, which actually makes it great for repurposing to fix drainage problems. Water already flows there."

Before work could begin on the land, it first had to be acquired by the City of Jeffersonville. Initial offers to purchase the land were refused by some of the property owners, prompting a legal battle over eminent domain that began October 2018.

In June, a Clark County magistrate ruled in favor of the city. A "relocation agent" was then hired to serve as a liaison between residents and the city.

"I don't like to eminent domain unless I absolutely have to," Moore said. "I think when you look at fixing the problems in the City of Jeff that have lasted for decades and decades, that area comes up to the top of the list. It needs our attention."

Now, city officials are saying that they have reached agreements to relocate the 10 remaining families out of the original roughly 30. Those remaining all live in a 12-unit apartment building at the corner of Indiana Avenue and Ninth Street.

"The way our relocation agent works is she gives them half the money up front to move," said engineer Jorge Lanz of Jacobi, Toombs and Lanz. "They get 60 days to move. After they move, they get the second half, then they get the cost-of-living adjustment. On most of those residents, it was $8,000 or $9,000."

Lanz agreed with Moore that the area has been a long-standing headache for the city, as evidenced by flooding earlier this year that displaced residents from the nearby M. Fine building — an occurrence that happened multiple times over the course of a year.

"Everybody just thinks Jeff drains toward the river, and it doesn't," Lanz said. "Jeffersonville drains toward that area on 10th Street. That used to be called Cane Run Creek. It was an open ditch that flowed through, and then it flowed to the west through Clarksville."

With the property nearly ready for clearing, the city is gearing up to get the project started. According to Lanz, it should take about six months to complete once construction begins.

After the system is tested, a plan to build a park on the land on top of it will move forward.

"Obviously, what we want to do is make sure we install the underground detention system, then hopefully there's a period where we can do some performance testing to see how effective it is," Lanz said. "Once that's done, we can proceed with the top, which is the park."

Moore compared the park to another recently-announced project, Shirley's Arbor, which will also see a drainage project serve a dual purpose as a park.

"There will be underground storage tanks, but we can put a nice, little park on top of it," he said. "It will fix a lot of the drainage problems for downtown, and the public will be able to utilize the space. For the residents that still remain down there, this is going to be a godsend for them. The city is finally stepping up and addressing a long-standing issue."

Ideas for the name of the park and its design will be looked into in the coming months, Moore said.

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