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Kankakee River Levees Fixed Just in Time

by Stan Maddux

Published: Friday, March 9, 2018

Floodwaters quit rising after levees along the swollen Kankakee River in LaPorte and Starke counties were repaired over the weekend.

That's according to Frank Gorski, who was among the farmers helping the Indiana Department of Natural Resources and other government agencies rebuild the broken levees.

Stopping the floodwaters from rising was urgent for several food producers, including Gorski Farms, where about 3,000 hogs were threatened by 1 to 10-feet deep water edging up to the swine barns.

His brother, Jim, resides on the flooded property less than a mile west of the Kankakee River.

"There was fish in my brother's yard,'' Frank said.

Had the water gone much higher, Gorski said travel lanes to the barns would have been covered and kept the hogs from being reached with food or taken to alternate locations.

"Thankfully, it won't be getting any higher unless we have more breaks,'' Gorski said.

He said sandbags placed the previous week around two bins full of grain on his family farm were still holding back the high water.

The bins contain about 10,000 bushels of soybeans, but the ground is too soft for trucks to get in and haul the grain to a drier location.

Gorski credited State Rep. Jim Pressel of Rolling Prairie for repairs to the broken levees starting last Friday instead of several days later.

The base of each broken levee was plugged with sandbags weighing 5,000 pounds apiece.

He said NIPSCO and the Starke County Highway Department already had the bags filled before they started being dropped into the roughly 100-foot-wide breaks.

Gorski said Dan Gumz and Mark Scorborough, with farms in the LaCrosse area were also instrumental in the emergency effort.

"They had the large equipment, and they knew what they were doing,'' said Gorski.

Tara Wolf, director of communications for the Indiana Department of Natural Resources in Indianapolis, said staff at the nature preserve at North Judson have worked continuously since Feb. 21 to restore several breaks on the Kankakee and Yellow rivers surrounding the DNR property.

She said DNR was aware of eight breaks in the area, with some unreachable due to the high water levels.

"DNR has countless resources working on these repairs to help alleviate private landowners, but this is unprecedented damage and a very fluid situation that is continuously changing,'' Wolf said.

Gumz, who raises corn and mint on his spread near LaCrosse, said the Kankakee will continue to be high until all of the breaks on the Yellow River are repaired.

He's hoping the flood waters will recede by spring planting, but that will hinge largely on all of the levees being fixed and flooded equipment being repaired in time.

"We still have 5 feet of water across the farm,'' Gumz said.

Gorski said the hog barns erected 30 years ago were designed for a 500-year-flood and he hadn't seen water close to being this high since 1982.

He blamed the extensive flooding on his and other surrounding properties on one of the breaks alleged to have been ordered by DNR to alleviate flooding upstream.

Water from the Yellow River broke the levees on the Kankakee River and sent water across the Kankakee Fish and Wildlife Area and into the flooded farms.

"If it was for the greater good, then those that are harmed should be compensated,'' Gumz said

Wolf said she did not know if DNR breached one of the levees.

The LaPorte County commissioners declared an emergency in the flooded areas in the county.

Commission president Rich Mrozinski said the declaration allows county government to apply for federal funds to recover money spent on overtime, road repairs and other flood related costs.

He said the funds would also compensate property owners for their losses.

Mrozinski said all flood damage is being recorded as part of the application process with the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

"Everything needs to be documented. That's the stage we're in now,'' said Mrozinski.

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