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New higher wall at state line raises eyebrows
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New higher wall at state line raises eyebrows

HAMMOND — A recent project raising the height of a wall erected along State Line Avenue between Hammond and Calumet City has evoked memories of the concrete curb that was put in place in that area 12 years ago. But the latest project is designed to stop water, not traffic and crime, according to federal and local officials.

The recent project, as well as an earlier erection of the levee tie-back wall that was finished in 2015, is totally separate from a 2005 project that involved the addition of 8 inches of curbing installed along State Line Avenue, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the city of Hammond and the Little Calumet River Basin Development Commission.

That 2005 project was designed to stop traffic from using local east-west side streets to cross between Indiana and Illinois, and to cut down on burglaries, Hammond officials said at the time.

In 2014, the Little Calumet River Basin Development Commission constructed a concrete wall of about 3 feet stretching south from about East Lawndale Street in Hammond to a point near the earthen levee south of Forest Avenue.

That wall, completed in 2015, is called a tie-back levee designed to prevent floodwaters from overflowing around the end of a levee or flood wall. Tie-back levees characteristically extend from the main levee along a water body to a point of higher ground.

The first tie-back levee was designed and built to protect the area from a 100-year flood and delighted many residents on the Hammond side, who experienced a dramatic decrease in their flood insurance bills.

The need for that tie-back wall initially was discussed in 2010. A study had found that because levees in Illinois wouldn't be brought up to the height of those on the Indiana side, a record rain event could cause floodwater to pour over the levees in Calumet City and into the far southwest side of Hammond.

Resident Laurie Czulno, who lives on Forest Avenue in Hammond about a block away from the project, said that project took about 125 to 150 homes out of the flood plain, including her house. Flood insurance premiums went down to less than $500 annually instead of the approximately $1,800 to $2,400 that people in the neighborhood had been paying, she said.

In addition to the financial relief, Czulno referred to the emotional relief provided by the project. She said before the wall was constructed, she would stay home during periods of heavy rain, worried about what she would do if floodwaters reached her home.

This year, the wall was raised about another foot, which has pleased additional residents in Hammond, as more residents are being removed from the local flood plain. An earthen wall will tie the concrete wall to the existing earthen levee on the south. The newly raised wall is expected to protect residents from a 200-year flood.

Work on raising the height of the current wall to about 4 feet high, depending on the ground elevation, began March 28 and is expected to wrap up around the end of July. The project costs about $582,385 and is covered 80 percent by federal dollars from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and a 20 percent local share from the Little Calumet River Basin Commission.

Raising height, lowering fear

Czulno said the recent project raising the height of the wall is expected to take more than 20 additional properties in the neighborhood out of the flood plain.

Some Calumet City residents, however, see the project as just another attempt to block travel between the two states — and communities.

"This wall is not for water-control; this wall is for people-control," contends Kevin B. Dean, who wonders why it was built of concrete instead of earthen material if it really was for flood control.

Hammond resident Mary Renwick, however, is happy for the added protection and the flood-insurance savings.

"I do think it's a good idea," said Renwick, who lives near Czulno.

The 1,200-linear-foot wall is one of the last pieces of the 22-mile project of earthen levees and tie-backs providing protection to Munster, Hammond, Highland and Gary, said Natalie Mills, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers project manager for the Little Calumet River Flood Risk Management Program.

"We are nearing the end of the project," Mills said.

Mills said the wall "would definitely minimize the risk of flooding in the homes" in the area. North of 166th Place, the land was determined to be high enough that the wall didn't have to be extended there.

As far as the wall creating additional water pooling into Calumet City, the Corps of Engineers said results from hydrology and hydraulic modeling showed there will be no change to conditions in that city as a result of the wall's construction.

Openings for bikers and walkers

A couple of openings have been installed for pedestrians and bicyclists to navigate between the two communities, which can be quickly sealed when floodwaters threaten. Mills said that at one time, more openings were considered, but the Little Calumet River Basin Development Commission and the city of Hammond didn't want any more. 

Hammond City Engineer Dean Button said, "At this point, I think we are likely to keep the wall gaps open. There are two schools of thought; for now, they will be kept open."

Calumet City resident Eddie Davila, who lives a few houses away from the new wall, calls it "an eyesore," and he and family members complain that, like the curb built more than a decade ago, the new wall will prevent easy travel between the two communities.

Czulno, however, said residents in southwest Hammond were glad the wall contains some architectural features rather than a plain concrete wall one might see along a highway.

Davila, along with some other local residents, didn't realize the wall was being erected to control flooding, and is skeptical that was the real reason.

"I think it's a waste of taxpayer money," he said.

Sharon Nicola, who lives a couple of doors down from Davila's house on 167th Place in Calumet City, said she doesn't like the feeling of being closed in created by the wall.

"I don't like walls," she said. "I don't care where they are."

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