The city is inching ever closer to finding a solution to what is believed will be the final Wabash River Levee repair before it's given the federal government’s stamp of approval.
Kirk Bouchie, general manager of Vincennes Water Utilities, told members of the Utilities Service Board on Wednesday he has been working with a team from Banning Engineering, the U.S. Corps of Engineers, the Indiana Department of Natural Resources and the Federal Emergency Management Agency in developing a plan to replace about 30 aged relief wells along the levee wall at Vincennes University.
And everything, he told the USB, “is moving in a positive direction.”
“We’re a little hesitant to say for sure that we know this plan will work or this is the route we’re going to take,” he said, “but everything is becoming more clear the further we get into this.”
Until 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.
It’s now looking increasingly likely, Bouchie said, that the more viable option will be burying a long trench-style relief well — essentially a pipe that will run from near the Robert E. Green Activities Center north to the parking lot behind the Van Eaton Indiana Center for Applied Technology.
The pipe, buried 7-10 feet deep, would collect seepage during high rivers or heavy rain events, divert it to pump stations and, ultimately, into the Wabash River.
The current 30 seepage relief wells were installed in the 1950s and are long past their lifespans. New federal rules associated with levee construction, however, no longer allow for those to simply be replaced.
The trench-style continuous drain, Bouchie told the USB, is necessary to adhere to new FEMA standards.
But it’s also like “threading a needle,” he said, as the line will need to be buried in the narrow space between the flood wall and the CSX Railroad tracks that run right along next to it. In areas where that space becomes too narrow, it will be located between the tracks and campus.
It’s also a “busy corridor,” Bouchie pointed out, and is requiring extensive coordination between the city, the university and CSX Railroad.
But that, too, he said is going well.
“They’ve been super helpful and supportive,” he said.
Initially, city officials had thought they needed to be finished with this project by year’s end; that, however, is becoming increasingly unlikely.
“But the good news is that FEMA and DNR and the corps of engineers are all very well aware of where we are in this process,” Bouchie said. “And although we don’t have a hard and fast deadline (to meet) out there in the future, we feel comfortable that we’ve got some time to get this done.”
Mayor Joe Yochum announced in May that he would need to work alongside the utility in raising an estimated $5 million for the replacement of those seepage relief wells. He’s raised just over $4.7 million with contributions of $2 million from Vincennes University and other amounts from the utility itself, the city and the Redevelopment Commission.
They’re hopeful, since this trench-style relief well will likely be cheaper than the buried metal wall, that will be enough.
“It’s just too early to say for sure,” Bouchie said. “But we are hopeful that the (actual) cost will meet our budget.”
So far, Bouchie said, the utility itself has paid out $219,798 for costs like survey work, soil borings, etc.
“We’re trying to push this thing forward as fast as we can,” he said of the timeline. “But the calendar is certainly closing in on us in terms of getting anything bid yet this year.
“Most likely we’d be looking at bidding this after the first of the year.”
Actual work, he added, would then begin “just as soon as feasible given river conditions.”
Flood season typically runs from December through May.
Officials say this is likely to be the last project mandated by 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 FEMA’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.