U.S. bill could help erosion around Clarksville shore

The Evening News and The Tribune

Oct. 11–CLARKSVILLE — Federal legislation is in the works that, if passed, could mean a solution to a decades-old erosion issue along the banks of some of Clarksville’s most historic areas.

House Resolution 8 — the Water Resources Development Act of 2018 — passed the U.S. House of Representatives in June on a 408-2 vote, and is now before the U.S. Senate.

The bill, similar to legislation that typically goes before Congress every two years, deals with authorization for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to initiate and continue with improvements to water resources infrastructure — including ports, inland waterways, locks, dams and flood mitigation.

The 2018 draft bill also includes a provision from Sen. Joe Donnelly that, if passed, would authorize the Corps to act on erosion issues in Clarksville under the Flood Control Act of 1946. The Energy and Water Development Appropriations Bill, which would include funding for projects, has been released for fiscal year 2019 so any potential funding for the erosion fix would not be available before 2020.

While not commenting directly on the pending legislation, Amy Babey, chief of Civil Works in the Planning Programs and Project Management branch of the Army Corps of Engineers in Louisville, said the erosion in Clarksville is something the Corps has studied for years.

One of the issues that engineers have looked at is whether the McAlpine locks and dam, a Corps project, contributes to the erosion. A flood plane management study, which looked at water flows in the Ohio River, was completed this year.

“One of the things we were able to determine in that report was what the water was doing,” Babey said. “As a result, we did determine that the McAlpine locks and dam is at least a contributing source of the erosion in Clarksville.”

The Corps is pursuing federal funding to try to remedy the erosion. That would require as a first step a study to determine the fix before tallying a total estimated project cost.

But until the bill is passed with the Clarksville language included, the Corps doesn’t have the authority to do work on the erosion issue. At that point, the national headquarters would contact Louisville with an official interpretation of the bill.

Clarksville Town Council member John Gilkey said he hopes the legislation passes the Senate and is approved by President Donald Trump. Not only does the erosion affect a historic area, but the town has had to pay the costs of road reconstruction after collapses on Emery Lane and Tennyson Lane over the past few years and mitigation to banked areas.

The erosion has mainly affected the area between the George Rogers Clark Cabin on Harrison Avenue and Silver Creek. To Gilkey, the town can’t afford to lose any more of the historic shoreline that was the starting point for shaping the region.

“This is an extremely historic area,” Gilkey said. “That’s where George Rogers Clark built his cabin. That’s where [Meriwether] Lewis and Clark pushed of from the mouth of Mill Creek to go West on their expedition.”

But the actual spot where they set sail, Gilkey said, is already lost after years of the waters eating away at the shore.

“It’s sad because the point where Lewis and Clark pushed their boat off into the river and went West is 300 to 400 feet out into the river now,” he said. “It no longer exists.”

He said, too, that the land the cabin itself sits on has been disappearing over the years.

“The cabin, due to erosion, is already in jeopardy,” he said. “You don’t walk very far out the door of the cabin until you’re standing on the edge of the cliff going down to the river — and it keeps moving in.”

Aprile Rickert is the crime and courts reporter at the News and Tribune. Contact her via email at aprile.rickert@newsandtribune.com or by phone at 812-206-2115. Follow her on Twitter: @Aperoll27.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Waterways Council, Inc.