The final major repair project needed to keep the Wabash River levee in good standing with the federal government may now be a bit less complicated — and less expensive — than first thought.
Kirk Bouchie, general manager of Vincennes Water Utilities, told members of the Knox County Development Corp. Friday morning the plan to prevent seepage from some of the levee’s northern-most portions has now taken something of a positive turn.
They’ve been traveling “multiple lanes,” he said, in an attempt to find a solution to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ liking, and they seem to have now settled into one.
“We have two methods that will accomplish the same thing,” he said. “You just have to do all of the engineering to determine which one is more feasible given our situation, what with the (CSX) railroad there, the university, the existing (flood) wall.
“We have to find which plan best accomplishes our mission, both financially and physically.”
Bouchie said up until very recently, the plan engineers most looked to was the installation of a steel cut-off wall that would be erected underground on the wet side of the levee in an effort to block seepage altogether.
That’s likely the more expensive option, he said.
The other option, however, is to actually replace — and potentially add — seepage relief wells on the outside of the levee that would catch seepage and, using the city’s existing drainage system and pump stations, send it back into the Wabash River.
That's now the one everyone is leaning toward, Bouchie said.
“It’s really too early to say for sure at this point,” he said. “But it may, in fact, be a simpler solution, quite possibly a cheaper solution.”
Going that route, too, Bouchie said, may aid in more easily finishing the project by year’s end, which is what FEMA has mandated.
Bouchie is conducting weekly conference calls with all of the federal, state and local agencies working on the project in an effort to keep it moving forward regardless of which option they ultimately choose. They all had an on-site meeting, he said, Friday morning.
“I see it as my job to keep pushing this along. If we don’t do that, I’m afraid a month goes by, two months go by,” he said, trailing off. “We have to bring this to a conclusion.”
Mayor Joe Yochum announced in May that he would need to work alongside Vincennes Water Utilities in raising an estimated $5 million for the replacement of seepage relief wells along a portion of the earthen levee.
So far, he’s raised just over $4.7 million, he said Friday, with contributions of $2 million from Vincennes University and other amounts from the utility itself, the city and the Redevelopment Commission.
The current seepage relief wells were installed in the 1950s and are long past their lifespan. The wells essentially allow groundwater from the levee to be captured and drained back into the river, all in an effort to be sure the levee remains stable.
The targeted area for repair includes roughly 3,000 feet from the Robert E. Green Activities Center north to Kimmell Park.
But officials say it's likely to be the last project mandated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers — the city has invested $7 million in improvements so far — before it officially signs off and recommends that Vincennes be included on the Federal Emergency Management Agency's new flood maps.
Not being re-certified, city officials have said, could stymie future development as residents and commercial business owners alike would be required to purchase flood insurance, among other regulations.