Chesterton Tribune



Snow melt hard ground and 4 inches of rain combine to cause flooding

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Chesterton Utility Superintendent Dave Ryan is calling it a “perfect storm.”

Begin with the rapid melt late last week of the 15 to 20 inches of snow on the ground.

Add to that the fact that--the recent mild temperatures notwithstanding--the ground remains frozen and about as absorbent as concrete.

Then dump more than four inches of rain on Duneland in fewer than 36 hours, and the result is a foregone conclusion: widespread flooding, on a scale not seen since the Great Flood of September 2008, when 12 inches of rain deluged Duneland over 48 hours.

Total rainfall recorded at the Chesterton wastewater treatment plant, from late Monday through early Wednesday: 4.25 inches. That compares--according to the National Weather Service--to 1.71 inches in Rockford, Ill.; 2.68 inches at Chicago-O’Hare; 5.31 inches in Valparaiso; and 6.50 inches in Wheatfield.

The impact on Superintendent Ryan’s bailiwick--the wastewater treatment plant--was a predictable one: the 1.2-million gallon storage basin quickly filled to capacity and on Tuesday afternoon the plant began bypassing wastewater into the Little Calumet River. As of Wednesday afternoon some 5 million gallons had been bypassed.

Meanwhile, all across town lift stations went on high alert as their wet wells began filling, forcing the Utility and the Street Department to field a pair of vacuum trucks to keep the stations from flooding. “The crews’ dedication has resulted in us being able to manage the system well enough, with no calls for sewer backup from our customers, which has been our goal throughout the event,” Ryan told the Chesterton Tribune late on Wednesday. “Manhandling a vac hose over the top of a 20’ to 40’ deep wet well can be hazardous, but even more so after continuous hours of work.”


The 4.25 inches of rain on top of the snow melt was mischievous enough but the real culprit in the flooding may have been the condition of the ground, Street Commissioner John Schnadenberg said. “In the summer the ground is soft and even a heavy rain soaks in pretty fast. But there’s nowhere for the rain to go when the ground is hard.”

Once the rain began falling heavily, at 11 p.m. Tuesday, the Pope O’Connor Ditch filled rapidly. That ditch runs a northeasterly course from a point south of Chesterton High and the detention ponds served by it had to send their water somewhere. In the case of the Tanglewood subdivision, that meant onto Windridge Drive.

“The Tanglewood detention pond couldn’t drain fast enough into Pope O’Connor because Pope O’Connor was full itself,” Schnadenberg said. “And Windridge tends to act as a secondary detention area because it’s at the lowest point in the subdivision. Water always seeks the lowest level.”

A Street Department pump went to work on Windridge Drive on Tuesday afternoon and kept at it until 6 p.m., then went back into service at 3:30 a.m. Wednesday after Schnadenberg received a report of a flooding threat to a walk-in basement. As of this morning Windridge Drive was still being pumped.

But that wasn’t the only problem at Tanglewood. The detention pond just west of the Boys and Girls Club along 1100N also filled, Schnadenberg added, sending water into the rear yards of several Tanglewood homes backing onto the pond. “We had to pump those yards out into the high school’s separate drainage system to keep those houses from flooding,” he said.

“We haven’t pumped this much since the big rain in 2008,” Schnadenberg noted. “That’s the last time we’ve had a flooding issue this severe.”

At various times on Wednesday 1100N flooded over near the Rosehill Estates subdivision--“I haven’t seen that in many years,” Schnadenberg said--as well as east of South Fifth Street.

Flood waters crested too over South 11th Street near the back entrance to Westchester Intermediate School.

And one of the other usual suspects--Gladys Lane in the Westchester South subdivision--was also submerged for some time before the waters there receded.

On the other hand, the lowest point in the entire Town of Chesterton--the alley behind Val’s Pizzeria--did not flood, which Schnadenberg attributed to the installation several years ago of a stormwater lift station. That station--along with a second installed in an alley off 11th Street just north of West Porter Ave.--performed just as they were designed to do.

“Over the last 30 years I’ve seen dramatic changes in the town’s stormwater system,” Schnadenberg said. “We would have had a catastrophic problem if the town hadn’t done all the stormwater improvements it’s done. There were isolated issues on Tuesday and Wednesday, no question about that, but nothing like would have happened if the town hadn’t invested in stormwater infrastructure. That was money well spent.”


The Chesterton Fire Department responded twice during the rain to reports of occupied vehicles stranded on flooded roadways and filling with water.

The first: at 12 p.m. Tuesday, in Boone Grove. The second: at 7 p.m. Tuesday, in the area of U.S. Highway 20 and Harrison Road.

In both cases the CFD was disregarded before firefighters arrived at the scene.



Posted 2/22/2018




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