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Residents threaten lawsuit against city of Indianapolis over flood wall project

May 9, 2017

A group of residents from a northern Indianapolis suburb are threatening legal action against the city if it moves forward with its plans for a flood wall along a canal, a plan they say could subject their homes to serious flood damage.

Four residents from the town of Rocky Ripple hand delivered a tort claim notice to the offices of Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett and Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and Citizens Energy Group on Monday, putting them on notice of possible legal action to come as a result of the planned construction of a flood wall along the White River Central Canal.

Russ Sipes, attorney for the four residents, said the city has already begun tearing down trees and preparing for construction of the Westfield Alternative south phase, a phase they say will “wall-off their homes in Rocky Ripple from the rest of the area, (leaving) those residents of Rocky Ripple at the mercy of the river.”

According to the website BuildtheWallforAll.org, an online campaign that champions the residents’ argument against the flood wall and solicits donations for their cause, the city’s plan would construct the wall between Westfield Boulevard south from Capitol Avenue to Holcomb Gardens, protecting properties to the east and north of Broad Ripple but “excluding” and “abandoning” Rocky Ripple.

Legal representatives for the city of Indianapolis did not immediately return messages seeking comment.

In their series of tort claim notices, all four residents expressed a similar sentiment:

“The start of the final Westfield Alternative south phase of the Indianapolis White River flood wall project has interfered with the use and enjoyment of my property by causing my property to lose value,” they wrote in their individual notices. “When the wall is complete, it will cause my property to more severely flood and be completely destroyed.”

Specifically, the residents alleged property damage ranging from $110,000 to $250,000 as a result of the wall’s construction and completion. Further, Snipes said they are already suffering from declining property values, with one of the residents being advised by a realtor not to list their house on the market.

Rather than moving forward with the Westfield Alternative south phase, the residents are advocating for the city to “finish the White River flood project with a wall around Rocky Ripple,” according to their website.

Snipes said the residents’ alternative plan would allow the city to move forward “without significantly more financial impact than what they’re doing now.” According to the Indianapolis Star, the city has pledged $10 million toward Rocky Ripple flood protection to complement the $40 million White River flood wall, which has already been completed from Broad Ripple to roughly Illinois Street.

“The city has the power and, I think, the moral authority to say no and to just stop and the tell Corps of Engineers, ‘We’re going to finish this the right way,’” Sipes said.

The issue of the flood wall has also been plagued by public access complaints, with Indianapolis attorney Bart Herriman filing a complaint with Indiana Public Access Counsel Luke Britt alleging the Rocky Ripple Town Council conducted official business relating to flooding issues on multiple occasions without posting notice or opening up the meetings to public comment. Britt agreed and wrote in an opinion earlier this year that the council’s conduct had violated the Open Door Law.
 

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