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10.15.2009
From Run-Off to Riches
Jeffersonville considers innovative canal district
A plan of the new Jeffersonville canal.
Courtesy Jeffersonville DPZ

In an ambitious move to solve an engineering problem, improve the environment, and enhance the quality of life for its residents, Jeffersonville, Indiana, plans to convert a section of Mulberry Street near the Ohio River into a grand 40-foot-wide canal and pedestrian promenade that stretches three quarters of a mile inland.

The proposed Canal District stems from a practical engineering requirement. The area is prone to flooding by runoff and sewer overflow during heavy rain events. The Environmental Protection Agency has mandated that Jeffersonville’s sewers conform to the U.S. Clean Water Act, which prohibits sewage overflows into the Ohio River.

Rather than build a conventional underground stormwater sewer and retention basin, the canal would perform the same function in an environmentally sustainable manner. Brian Fogle, assistant director of planning and zoning, explains that rainwater will flow through landscaped bio-swales to be filtered and partially absorbed into the ground before it is channeled into the canal, where it can be stored or pumped to the Ohio River.

The project was born of Mayor Tom Galligan’s observations of the revitalizing power of canals in Indianapolis and San Antonio. Preliminary plans will have a waterway meandering through the city, connecting other planned development projects that include a new convention center and hotel, and the terminus of a pedestrian and bicycle crossing over the Ohio River.

“The fundamental purpose of the canal is to prevent storm water from mixing with the sewers,” says Jeffersonville communications director Larry Thomas. “Instead of only solving one problem that we have to solve, we want to create more economic activity downtown.”

Mayor Galligan envisions a mix of privately developed shops, restaurants, and nightlife lining the canal to draw tourists. Proposed residential development will tie in with historic neighborhoods that line the project area. The water feature will serve as a linear park connecting the Ohio River Greenway with the core of the city.

Approval is being sought from the EPA, and engineering studies are ongoing to determine the proper alignment and dimensions of the canal. Jeffersonville expects to submit plans for the canal in December, now that a consent decree has been filed in U.S. District Court on September 17 requiring the sewer issues to be addressed.

Funding for the project could come from a combination of local and federal sewer and drainage funds, grants, and private investment. The city may consider tax increment financing in the adjacent urban enterprise zone. The canal will be built in phases, though no timetable yet exists for the project.

A version of this article appeared in AN 01_10.14.2009_MW.

Branden Klayko