Indiana Flood Walls Aim to Prevent Repeat of 2008

By JESS HUFFMAN | August 23, 2012

Floodwaters from Haw Creek, Ind., cost Cummins Inc. an estimated $220 million dollars in property damage in 2008. The company is making an investment to make sure that never happens again.

South of Haw Creek, near the intersection of State Street and Central Avenue, a flood wall is being built at the Columbus Technical Center. And plans are nearing completion to start a similar project for the Columbus Engine Plant, on the opposite side of the creek from the Tech Center, in early September.

Cummins is paying for the flood walls, which are being built to 500-year flood specifications and will be equipped with automatic flood gates. The company did not say how much the flood walls cost.

“This protects Cummins’ facilities from damages and losses, including interruption of business,” Cummins spokesman Jon Mills said via email. “And, importantly, it does so without impacting the surrounding community.”

Cummins received approval from the state and city before beginning work on the Columbus Technical Center’s concrete protectors, which are expected to be completed by November. The Fortune 500 engine and power generation systems producer anticipates getting the go-ahead for the Columbus Engine Plant’s walls soon.

The walls were designed by Indianapolis’ Christopher Burke Engineering. F.A. Wilhelm Construction is building the Columbus Technical Center, while Force Construction will take on the Columbus Engine Plan endeavor.

About a year ago, the Columbus City Council adopted flood plain regulations for Haw Creek in response to a study done by Christopher Burke Engineering, a group that was hired by Cummins and Columbus Regional Hospital. One of the restrictions spelled out a flood wall could not cause a water increase of more than 1.2 inches in the case of a 500-year flood.

Design plans for structures in the Haw Creek flood plain must be submitted to the city for review and approval, said Columbus-Bartholomew County Planning Director Jeff Bergman. Cummins’ findings matched with the city’s assessments and received approval, he said.

“When the (technical) center flood wall was first being built, we had some neighbors to the east of there that had some concerns,” Bergman said. “But we shared all the analysis that we had, and they found it reassuring.”

The 2008 flood wiped out a large section of the Pleasant Grove neighborhood to the east of the Columbus Technical Center. Destroyed with it were the Cummins electronic systems and fiber optic networks.

About five feet of muddy water rushed into the basement of the Columbus Engine Plant. The company’s Health Center and award-winning $4.8 million Childhood Development Center also were damaged by the floodwaters.

“Personally, if Cummins feels this is what they need to do to protect themselves … I don’t have a problem with building a system of flood walls,” said Bartholomew County Commissioner Paul Franke, who served on the 17-member Columbus and Bartholomew County Flood Regulation Committee, which has drafted plans for countywide regulations of building in flood plains.

If all goes as Cummins has planned, Columbus will have three flood walls, and maybe more, by the end of next summer. Columbus Regional Hospital built a flood wall earlier this year. Mills said via email that Cummins is considering constructing flood walls for other properties.

“The 2008 flood was a very rare occurrence,” Franke said. “Columbus had never seen anything like it before. Will we see anything like it again? That remains to be seen.”

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