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Ditch erosion at Hoke’s worsens

The Harrison County Parks Dept. will soon ask the county council to help fund a $500,000 project to mitigate erosion at a ditch that is currently threatening Elizabeth’s water supply.
The ditch has eroded to be about 44 feet deep and 170 feet wide, parks superintendent Larry Shickles said.
‘It’s probably even more now, and it’s within about 20 feet of the water well,’ he said.
That well is the water source for about 4,000 residents around Elizabeth and Horseshoe Southern Indiana at Bridgeport.
The ditch lies on a roughly 70-acre plot of land along the Ohio River that’s been given the name ‘Hoke’s Landing,’ after the family that owned it before it was purchased by the parks department. The property is west of Horseshoe Southern Indiana, near the intersection of state roads 211 and 11.
The parks board was considering purchasing the land to build a boat ramp on before ultimately deciding on Morvin’s Landing for that project.
Shickles said the board was then asked by councilmembers to purchase the plot at Hoke’s Landing anyway so that a private buyer would not purchase it and leave the problem to get worse.
The land around the ditch is presently an ‘investment property’ for the parks department, Shickles said, meaning it is being leased out for use by farmers.
The two main worries with the trench are that the aquifer could be contaminated or the well could collapse as a result of the erosion. With the record-setting rainfall levels seen in the first half of the year, parks board members expressed concerns that the pace of erosion could be speeding up.
Shickles said a recent drone-mapping of the water well and its surrounding area showed there is no eminent danger of collapse, but he said the problem will only get worse if left to sit.
In January last year, the engineering firm DLZ was allotted $51,400 from the county council to conduct a study to explore potential solutions for the land. Shickles said they came back with two possible plans for the department. Right now, the options are to either restore the ditch to a less-threatening state using large channel culverts to fill in some of the eroding land or to keep the land mostly as it is and fortify the banks to mitigate further erosion.
Further complicating the issue, Shickles said the Indiana Dept. of Natural Resources now considers the ditch a protected wildlife habitat. For that reason, he said the latter option seems the most promising because it will not disrupt the habitat.
The parks board will bring both options to the table when the council meets next month.
‘We’ll tell the council, ‘You tell us what you want us to do, and we’ll come back and ask for what you told us to ask for’,’ Shickles said at the parks board meeting last Wednesday evening.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency also has about $150,000 in available funds that could go toward the project if the department’s application for the grant is accepted, Shickles said. He said the parks board is working to provide FEMA with information about the proposals it needs to make a determination.
With regards to the parks department’s other ‘landing,’ Shickles said crews started pouring concrete on the boat ramp at Morvin’s Landing near Mauckport earlier this month.
‘After a long ‘sit still and do nothing,’ things really started getting moving last week,’ he told the parks board members.
The parking lot for the ramp is in place, and this week construction crews are working on a turn-around for boaters to use.
The ramp should open sometime around the end of September, though Shickles said that’s a ‘soft’ opening date, meaning it could change depending on weather conditions and potential hiccups in construction progress.
Along the west side of the boat ramp is about 35 acres of historical property that was purchased for public use by the parks department. Shickles told parks board members to think about what the land could be used for, noting that councilmembers have suggested building campsites near the boat ramp.
‘There’s hundreds of visions for this property out there,’ he said.
Shickles said the boat ramp could be a ‘catalyst’ for development in the southern part of Harrison County.
‘My guess is this: If you put 100 campsites down there, they’ll be full,’ he said.
He said the infrastructure needed for development at Morvin’s Landing will benefit the surrounding area.
‘If you take water to that property, you add value to all the property between there and (Mauckport),’ Shickles said.
The department owns about 140 total acres of property around the boat ramp that could be multi-use. Right now, most of that is being leased as farmland.
Shickles said at full development, the property could support about 120 campsites and still have land available for habitat restoration or other projects.
The next parks department board meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, Aug. 28, at 7 p.m. at the Harrison County Government Center in Corydon.