One day in the summer of 2008, Surveyor Tom Cummins said, "I think I can fix the Shelley Drain for a lot less than the millions of dollars the Army Corp of Engineers estimated, but first I need to know just exactly where it is." His comment was the beginning of a solution to the decades-long dark cloud over the east side of Crawfordsville.

Shelley Drain is a farm drain constructed in the early 1900s on the east side of Crawfordsville.

Montgomery County has 200 farm drains that improve agricultural productivity by lowering the water table. They are regulated and managed by the Montgomery County Drainage Board

As Crawfordsville grew over the next years, farm land was converted to homes and businesses. More and more run off from roof tops and driveways had nowhere to go except into the Shelley Drain which was not designed to handle surface water runoff. In the late-60s, frequent flooding became such a problem that the surveyor simply quit assessing landowners for its maintenance. Predictably, the flooding grew worse with each passing year. By the 70's community leaders began to look for a viable solution. They brought in experts including the Army Corps of Engineers whose multi-million dollar reconstruction solution was well beyond the means of the city, the county, or landowners. They also sought state and federal funding to no avail.

In 1998, faced with an impossible situation, the Drainage Board passed a resolution severely limiting new construction in the watershed, a strategy that would not solve the problem but would perhaps keep it from getting worse. Month after month, landowners petitioned the Drainage Board for permits to add garages, porches or driveways; only the smallest projects were approved. The resolution also prohibited business and industry development on the east side of Crawfordsville.

In 2006, a four-citizen, one-commissioner Drainage Board replaced the three-commissioner Board and Tom Cummins replaced the surveyor. By 2009, the Board and the Surveyor had gained enough experience and confidence to tackle the Shelley Drain. They invited 900 landowners to the 4-H Fairgrounds to hear Tom's solution--a yearly assessment of $100 per parcel, very high for drain assessment, to pay for the mapping and repairs. Tom told those gathered that after two or three years, the assessment would be lowered. Many were not even homeowners when the Drainage Board took the Shelley Drain off maintenance assessment in 1968. Most did not know about the Shelley watershed or that they were responsible for the drain's maintenance.

In the fall of 2011, enough money had been collected to begin mapping. Using a camera that travels through drains, Tom traced the course of the drain repairing damage as he found it.

Next week's article will be about what Tom found, the work that remains, and the impact on the development of the east side of Crawfordsville.



Deanna Durrett is the Public Relations Director for Montgomery County Economic Development. She also serves on the Montgomery County Drainage Board.