MOUNT VERNON — The Regional Planning Commission Appeals Board voted 4-to-1 Wednesday to approve an appeal by Robert Small against a previous RPC ruling.
Small, proprietor of Small’s Sand and Gravel on Killduff Road, east of Gambier, had proposed building a low levee along the banks of the Kokosing River around his gravel mining operation. In apparent accordance with Knox County regulations, consultants Uwe Seeler, of Mine Services Co. Inc. in Danville, and Delaware engineer Doyle Hartman had designed the dike to be low enough that it would not deflect major floodwaters downstream.
The design was originally rejected by RPC secretary Darrel Severns, working in his capacity as flood plain administrator, on the grounds that the levee’s slowly tapering structure could have an impact on the flood plain at lower flood levels, even though everyone agreed it would be harmless in a 100-year flood.
RPC Appeals Board Chairman Rob Clendening opened the meeting and swore in Seeler. Seeler said that in planning the levee, he brought in Hartman to make sure the design would be within regulations. Seeler said everything in the design he and Hartman devised was measured against Knox County flood plain regulations, which do not allow the creation of any structure which could reroute or deflect a 100-year flood. Seeler said their structure was in compliance with that requirement. Any water higher than a five-year flood would flow over the dike.
Hartman went into more technical detail on the design, explaining what figures were used for calculations to create the desired design.
Small testified, reiterating his previous comments that there were no great advantages for him if the levee is built, that he can just as easily dump topsoil back into the gravel mining pit when he is done, and simply not worry about later generations. But, he said, he would rather leave an inviting lake and park area for the community to use decades from now.
Severns testified that the reasoning behind rejecting the dike design was because the structure could channel water downstream and out of the regular flood plain during a five-year flood event. If the water could not breach the levee until reaching the dike’s lower end, near Stull Road, then this could cause floodwaters to back up south of the dike in areas that go outside the existing flood plain. Even though this does not refer to a 100-year flood, the wording of the regulations could be interpreted to mean that restricting the access of floodwaters to their normal flood plain, even in a smaller flood event, was prohibited.
Appeals board member Richard Stallard asked if the appellants wished to respond to the points of Severns original denial, as he felt that none of their testimony addressed them.
Seeler replied that the RPC’s regulatory authority was based on compliance with 100-year floods, not smaller floods. Hartman said his design was figured for a 100-year flood and that he did not interpret the regulations to mean access for the waters of every flood had to be allowed. He added that he has never seen regulations interpreted that way anywhere else in the state.
“Personally, I think that if you want to interpret it that way, it should be more clearly spelled out in your regulations so no one like us has to waste a lot of time and money,” Hartman said.
Clendening and county engineer Jim Henry discussed the fact that even in the five-year flood scenario described by Severns, the parts of the river along the dike would not be at equal flood heights as a flood developed. Therefore, it was also possible that flood waters could reach and go over the upper end levee wall before reaching above it on the downstream end. Clendening also pointed that out the slightly elevated roadbed of Killduff Road and the bridge there would restrict water to some degree, controlling its flood pace, as would one sharp bend in the river.
Clendening said that although he appreciated Severns’ point, flood levels are not as static as theoretical calculations make them seem. He added that there was, in his mind, a legitimate argument that the Small levee design did fully meet the county’s regulatory reference. Henry said he did not have concerns about the effect this dike would have on area roads during five-year floods.
The appeals board voted 4-to-1 in favor of overturning Severns’ decision and approving the levy design. Stallard cast the lone dissenting vote.
Afterward, Stallard declined to comment on whether he thought any sort of future effort would be made to revise the flood plain regulations in light of this ruling.
“That would just be speculation on my part,” Stallard said.
Small was pleased with the outcome of the hearing, as were county commissioners Robert Wise and Teresa Bemiller, both of whom came to observe the meeting.
“They made the right decision,” Bemiller said.