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GARY -- Local, state and federal officials gathered Friday morning at Lake Etta

Park in Gary to celebrate the completion of half of the Little Calumet River

Flood Control and Recreation Project.

"We are at the halfway point, and it will be complete, I think, in all of our

lifetimes," said U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky, D-Ind. "Clearly, there are important

things that are taking place here."

The Little Calumet River basin historically has been affected by flooding. This

project is intended to help prevent flood damage to more than 9,500 homes in

Gary, Griffith, Hammond, Highland and Munster. In November 1990, flooding

reached disaster level in Hammond, Highland and Munster with an estimated $35

million in flood damages and one death. President Clinton declared the flood

zone a National Disaster Area.

"People over a three-decade period of time have cooperated with one another for

a region-spanning effort to improve the quality of life for everyone,

regardless of where they live," Visclosky said.

The project covers 22 miles along the river from the Illinois state line east

and encompasses the construction of 22 miles of levees and flood walls,

upgrading pumping plants, modifying bridges and channels and the establishment

of a flood warning system. When the project is complete in 2008, it will

include 17 miles of new hiking trails along the river and the preservation of

more than 750 acres of wetlands. Construction began in 1990 after nearly 20

years of planning.

Lt. Col. Peter Rowan of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said the project is

expected to be completed by 2008. After the project is complete, Rowan said,

the work is estimated to save $11.5 million annually in flood damage.

Gary Mayor Scott King said he is impressed with the project's dedication to

keeping the needs of the community in mind.

"What has kind of been terrific about the visioning for this project has been

the practicality of the project," King said. "Instead of just throwing up

levees and channeling water, all along the project there's been a great deal of

sensitivity to the community. We are able to reduce flooding, expand

recreational opportunities and reclaim beautiful natural areas."

Indiana Rep. Chet Dobis, D-Merrillville, said he is excited about the

completion of the other half of the project.

"We're now at the halfway point, and the thing I'm really looking forward to is

when we have the ribbon cutting at the other end of the project," Dobis said.

"In the basements that aren't getting flooded anymore, little by little, the

residents are beginning to feel the benefits of this project."

To date, Visclosky has helped to secure more than $65 million in federal

funding for the project. The total cost of the project will be about $184


"We still face a number of problems in Northwest Indiana, and I think this

project is an example of my belief that we can solve them," Visclosky said.