Posted on

Cave system puts New Middletown storm water drain solution on hold

New Middletown has a water problem.
Not too little but too much — when it rains.
A project to drill into four sinkholes to drain storm water will be put on hold until the town can do a study to determine whether storm water diverted into the sinkholes would eventually drain into the Binkley Cave system, one of the top 10 cave systems in the United States.
Casey Saegesser, of Saegesser Engineering of Scottsburg, said a letter was received a week or so ago from the Indiana Dept. of Natural Resources (DNR) requesting more information about the town’s plan to drill the sinkholes because New Middletown is located only four miles east of the cave system.
“The DNR doesn’t know if the storm water will drain into the caves or not,” Saegesser said. “So they have requested the town do an environmental study on this matter. The town will most likely have to get a planning grant from the Dept. of Commerce to fund this study.”
Storm water drainage problems occur in New Middletown and much of the region because of geology.
“The geology of the land in our area will not allow excess rain water to soak into the ground because the hardpan layer under the soil is very close to the surface,” said Larry Mattingly, the president of the New Middletown Board of Trustees. “This causes excess water to flow through the community and settle in sinkholes and flood streets.”
“When we get a heavy rain, water runs down from the school, behind my house and settles in a pool behind Fred Lawson’s house on Clay Street. It also covers 4th Street,” said Mattingly. (Lawson is also a town trustee.)
Saegesser said, “The main concern we have with the New Middletown project is to keep storm water runoff from causing property damage.
“Storm water now drains into four large sinkholes. These sinkholes can either be cleaned out and left as they are, or be cleaned out and drilled to create a place for storm water to be collected and drained into the ground,” Saegesser explained.
Greg Reas, director of Harrison County Emergency Managment Agency, said, “In 1997, the New Middletown area received 11 inches of rainfall within a 24-hour period after the ground was already saturated, causing widespread flooding.”
“If we get rain like we had in 1997 again, homes will be flooded,” said Harrison County Surveyor Tom Bube. “There has to be a way of preventing flooding in the future.
“The DNR is concerned that drilling these sinkholes might allow storm water to drain into the caves and kill some endangered crawfish or something before it gets to the Ohio River,” Bube said. “If we are not allowed to drill in the sinkholes, I don’t know what can be done.
“In the past, some of these sinkholes have been used as refuse dumps and need to be cleaned out so that water can drain through them,” Bube remarked. “I know that in one sinkhole an old air-conditioning unit can be seen.”
The New Middletown board plans to apply to the Indiana Dept. of Commerce for a grant from the state’s Community Focus Fund for $430,000 for storm water drainage improvements.
“This is a matching grant, and New Middletown will have to fund 10 percent of the cost, about $43,000,” Mattingly said.
“The town can receive as much as $5,000 per resident for this project,” said Bube. “There are 85 residents living within the town limits now.”
“There are actually two projects going on in New Middletown at the same time,” Bube explained. “One for sanitary sewers and one for storm water runoff. A request has already been submitted for $430,000 for sewers, and confirmation about that money will be received sometime in May. Before we begin the sewer project, we want to have our money, another $430,000, for the storm water drainage project, so the streets will be torn up one time.”
Bube said New Middletown’s storm water problems are very similar to those faced by Laconia and other small local towns. “The system we install in New Middletown will be a lot like Laconia’s system,” he said.