By Timothy Cox
ROCKFORD -- Mercer County officials began a public ditch petition process that will examine whether flooding on the west side of Rockford can be controlled.
About three dozen people attended Thursday's public viewing along West Market Street, which becomes Rockford West Road outside the village limits. While there is no current flooding, residents and village officials showed county commissioners and county Engineer Jim Wiechart where water periodically crosses the road and damages a few homes in the area.
There are about 200 property owners in the watershed being looked at and a total of about 300 acres of land. If county officials decide to pursue a flood fix for the area, the property owners would share the cost, estimated by Wiechart to be at least $200,000 for a retention pond.
Wiechart said he would prefer village and county officials work out some other arrangement to share the costs of the project, mainly because many people in the watershed do not support the project. Some property owners could be looking at a hefty property tax assessment, even though they have no current water problems.
"If neighbors can't get along, this will have to be the way we go," Wiechart said. Several residents pushed Wiechart for a more cost-effective solution than a retention pond. Some said they believe existing underground drainage tiles that lead from the problem area to the St. Marys River could be cleared of debris to enhance the flow of water. Others thought storm water could be diverted with surface drainage along streets.
Wiechart said neither plan would be a viable solution.
The existing underground tile is too small to handle the flow, even if it is free of obstructions, he said. The tile was probably undersized when it was installed in 1954, Wiechart said. Draining the water along the street also would not handle the problem, he said.
There are only two possible solutions, Wiechart said -- building the retention pond or installing a new tile between Market Street and the river. The new tile would be cost-prohibitive, he said. Prior estimates have estimated replacing the drainage pipe would cost $1 million or more.
Some residents worried a retention pond would serve as a "mosquito trap."
Wiechart said retention ponds can be built so they only hold water when necessary to control flooding.
The next step in the process is for commissioners to convene a public hearing to gather more comments from residents. That meeting is scheduled for April 28 at 7 p.m. at the county central services building in Celina. Commissioners that evening could decide whether to proceed with the project or whether to call off the effort.