Fed up with frequent flooding of their crops and farmland, some western Warrick County farmers blame officials in Vanderburgh County for failing to address blockages in Pigeon Creek that prevent storm water from draining into the Ohio River. The problem, which dates back decades, is by product of politics, farmers said.
Just outside Chandler city limits near the intersection of SR 62 and Old Boonville Highway, there are thousands of acres of what should be prime, fertile farmland.
But they’re not.
It’s not the fault of the farmers that tend the fields, nor is Mother Nature to blame. The problem traces back a natural dam on the Vanderburgh County side of Pigeon Creek that remains untouched, farmers said.
“[The storm water] comes to the Vanderburgh County line and it acts like a dam and it starts backing up. It floods thousands of acres here in Western Warrick County,” said Tim Mosbey, a former Warrick County commissioner.
Even State Representative Ron Bacon (R-District 75) isn’t immune. He owns two-and-a-half acres nearby.
“When the river is down and the water in the ditches just can’t get to the river because of the blockage, that’s where we’ve got problems,” Rep. Bacon said. “It affects the farmers here and depletes their yield when their fields get flooded. We’ve already planted. We can’t re-plant. It eventually costs us at the table.”
The area is in a floodplain so water-covered fields are nothing unusual in the late winter and spring months.
It shouldn’t be the case in July. Farmers said the problem dates back decades.
“Gibson County and Warrick County have storm water drainage programs. They’re funded by the county residents. They take care of their ditches, Pigeon Creek being a legal drain,” Rep. Bacon said. “Vanderburgh County does not.”
The term legal drain refers to a watershed area where residents living in the area have to pay a yearly fee to fund maintenance of the waterway to ensure debris doesn’t pile up. Warrick and Gibson Counties have such programs and a funding mechanism to make sure the program works.
Vanderburgh County has a program but it is unfunded.
Mosbey, a former Warrick County Commissioner, devoted much of his four year term to working with Vanderburgh County officials about the issue.
“I did my [best] with the drainage board with the storm water board, working with the Vanderburgh County Engineer and Surveyor. Their hands are tied. They don’t have the funds,” Mosbey said.
There is no easy answer to the problem, Vanderburgh County Commissioner Joe Kiefer said, but the county, ‘wants to be a good neighbor.’
There are concerns that the county doesn’t have jurisdiction and there are no public access points to the creek to move equipment in and out. In order to declare Vanderburgh County portion of Pigeon Creek a legal drain, a majority of residents living along the waterway would have to approve a yearly fee, said Vanderburgh County Engineer John Stoll. There’s no guarantee voters would approve that.
Plus, imposing an additional fee is always an unpopular thing to do.
For the group of farmers, including State. Rep. Bacon, the county’s failure to address the issue boils down to politics and an unwillingness to do the right thing despite it’s unpopularity.
“This is a federal mandate that the State is supposed to be handing down. It’s for each unit of government, even cities and towns are all supposed to have a program that they fund for storm water drainage,” State Rep. Bacon said. “Vanderburgh County is not doing it.”
Rep. Bacon said having the state require Vanderburgh County to fund the program would be difficult because any potential legislation would be seen as a ‘Warrick County only’ type of problem. He has been in contact with other state representatives whose districts encompass the Evansville area.