Waterfront homeowners say Lewis and Clark Bridge makes flooding problem worse

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- As the flooded Ohio River washed trash and debris ashore this week, tires, a cooler and driftwood could be seen approaching from further upstream, signs, perhaps, of some of the businesses and homes evacuated and now underwater. 

Forecasters expect the river to crest at over 30 feet this weekend. On Thursday afternoon, it was at around 27 feet. It is the first major river flooding since the Lewis and Clark Bridge was built, and nearby residents said the new bridge made an old problem worse. 

"It's a mess," said Jeff Cooper, whose back door looks out at the river. "It's a little early for spring cleaning, but when the river comes in and wants to flush you out, you gotta go with the flow."

Cooper said he's literally "picking up his life" and placing his property on the roof, salvaging what he can.

There are visible signs under the bridge of just how high the floodwater has risen: a 4-foot white fence in Cooper's front yard is partially submerged. Just in front of that is Transylvania Beach Road, and Cooper said it flooded faster than normal. 

"We always stayed dry until the river came over," he said.

But things are different this time for one main reason: the bridge itself. Nearby residents said it has changed the path of the floodwaters, forcing them from their homes more quickly. 

"It is a lot worse this time," said Paras Tiwari, who was evacuating his family from their home Wednesday. "The water never used to come through here where the bridge was. It would come a little further down. So it is flooding the road a lot faster this year."

WVB East End Partners provided a statement through a spokesman. "The Ohio River Shoreline in Kentucky beneath the Lewis and Clark Bridge was returned to an elevation and grading that is effectively the same as it was prior to the start of construction as required by WVB’s contract with Indiana Finance Authority," spokesman Dan Hartlage said. 

Hartlage said FEMA has not yet approved the post-construction flood plain analysis, and public comment is a part of it. 

Cooper wants his comments heard.  "They're about five feet below grade down there," he said.

In the meantime, Cooper plans to pick up, clean up, repair and repeat. He may be in good spirits, but his wife has a different view of things, thinking that maybe 21 years on the river has run its course.

"She was pretty upset ... said we're just too old to deal with this anymore," Cooper said.

In September of 2015 a Transylvania beach neighbor died after he was swept away in floodwater. 

The flooding problem is well known, and the government wants to help those people get out of their homes. MSD won a $3 million grant from FEMA to buy and demolish flood-prone houses in Louisville, but some residents just don't want to move.

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