Friday, July 20, 2001

No flood control is in sight for Mill Creek communities




By Ben L. Kaufman
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Flood control on the Mill Creek remains a distant hope for northern Hamilton County communities inundated with high water again this week.

        The best bet may be the $800 million tunnel that the Metropolitan Sewer District (MSD) wants to bore under the creek to carry storm sewer runoff and what otherwise would be flood water to the Ohio River.

        “My guess is that it could be 10 years or more to complete it,” Robin Corathers, executive director of the Mill Creek Restoration Project, said Thursday.

        Patrick Karney, MSD director, said that sounded optimistic. He said the tunnel — 300 feet below the creek, 30 feet in diameter and almost 18 miles long — could be completed by 2015 if all went well.

        The tunnel — an MSD/Army Corps of Engineers project if built — would have five inlets for excess creek water and others for runoff.

        Mr. Karney said the tunnel could drain enough water from the creek to keep the stream in its banks and prevent the worst flood expected in any 100-year period.

        Other than that, there is no plan, no federal money for new construction and no agreement on what should be done to the stream that winds 28 miles from Butler County's Liberty Township through central Hamilton County.

        So fractured are the interests that the corps cannot combine its efforts in the two counties and, Ms. Corathers said, businesses that remain in the flood plain invite “serious, repetitive losses” and others are moving in despite the hazards.

        Meanwhile, the Mill Creek does what any silt- and refuse-clogged stream does after a sudden, intense rain overwhelms its ability to carry away water: It floods.

        On Tuesday and Wednesday, the creek again inundated flood plain businesses in Evendale and Sharonville.

        Back from Exon Avenue on Thursday, Evendale Fire Capt. Rick Cruse said, “It was the usual suspects and more than ever and worse than ever. The water is deeper than I've ever seen.”

        He said floods typically reach the loading docks on Exon Avenue, then subside. “This time every business — some for the first time — got water” inside.

        There once was a plan. Thirty-one years ago, the Corps of Engineers was authorized to widen, straighten and pave the lower 18 miles of creek to speed water to the Ohio River.

        Projected cost: $42 million.

        It suspended construction in December 1993, when the price reached $214.2 million and environmental objections escalated.

        In 1998, the corps undertook a $3 million, two-year re-evaluation study to see if benefits of flood mitigation justified still higher costs.

        The study stalled after the corps found complications in its computer models of water behavior in the creek and 165-square-mile drainage basin.

        As with construction, resolving those problems is taking extra time and money: the new deadline is 2002 and $10.1 million.

       



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