Funding needed to maintain Little Cal levee
Now that the basic level of flood protection largely has been completed along the Little Calumet River, funding sources to operate and maintain the levee system continue to be sought.
“This is a quarter-billion-dollar, man-made structure that took us 30 years to build,” said William Baker, chairman of the Little Calumet River Basin Development Commission, said Wednesday at the group’s first meeting of the year at Munster Town Hall. “When the project was put together (with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 1981), there was no money for operation and maintenance.”
Legislation to obtain that funding will be introduced this year in the Indiana General Assembly session, said Ron McAhron, commission member.
“We need your help,” Baker said to area residents who regularly attend the commission’s meeting. “This will be a big year.”
Currently, municipalities bordering the Little Calumet are asked to remove debris that restricts the flow of the river. On Jan. 4, for example, Munster public works crews removed trees from the control structure near the Northcote Bridge.
However, the long-term solution will involve hiring contractors to keep large debris from blocking the river, the commissioners said.
“We’ll need a perpetual source of funding,” Baker said.
At Wednesday’s meeting, commissioners authorized Dan Repay, the commission’s executive director, to hire contractors to remove three large blockages in Hammond and Munster for up to $7,500. Repay also has the authority to hire help in an emergency flooding situation.
Another large blockage is near the now-closed Chase Street in Gary.
Army Corps representative Matthew Cunningham took heat from commissioners and residents for parts of the levee construction that aren’t finished and for not bringing promised documents to the meeting.
One of those taking the Army Corps lead project manager to task was Brenda Peers, of Munster’s River Drive. Homes in the 1200 and 1300 block of River Drive flood during rainy periods or snow thaw because there’s no drainage system in place. The catch basin installed by Army Corps contractors is at least a foot above grade, meaning water doesn’t drain, she said.
“Our backyards have no drainage. We’re out there in waders trying to pump out our backyards,” Peers said. “There are a lot of widows and single moms out there. We’re digging trenches and using pumps. The sump pumps in our basements run all day.”
Peers brought photos of River Drive backyards and a petition demanding a resolution to the problem.
Cunningham told commissioners he would discuss the problem with others at the Army Corps office.