Island Park, part of Riverfront remain closed as city works to restore areas
NILES — Since the historic flooding that swept through the Michiana area in February, two of Niles’ beloved parks have been uncommonly empty, due to closures.
Both Riverfront and Island Park were damaged when floodwaters poured over the banks of the St. Joseph River, submerging the parks in several feet of water.
Part of Riverfront Park reopened Monday afternoon, but the playground area remains closed and wrapped in yellow caution tape. City officials are still waiting for river conditions to become less dangerous to assess the damages at Island Park, which remains closed.
Since the floodwaters have receded at Riverfront Park, city officials have been working round the clock to restore the park to the public.
The job has not been an easy one.
Joe Ray, the Public Works director, said while the play equipment and swing set were not damaged, the mulch that surrounds the play structure was contaminated by river water and needs to be replaced. Ray said replacing the mulch will cost about $30,000 and come from the city’s general fund. A Niles company has been selected for the job and the city is awaiting its completion.
The water that filled the park and subsequent streets along the downtown corridor left behind debris in its wake. Ray said a mountain of debris was removed over the course of several days.
Further cleanup procedures involved aerating the grass and initiating a power boom process to sweep sand out of the grass. The sand also had to be hauled off.
In late March, a chemist from the Niles Waste Water Treatment plant collected samples from the play structure, park benches and picnic tables. The samples were tested for contamination. Ray said there was no contamination found, which was one relief as city officials have grappled with repairs across the city since the flood.
“The play equipment and tables are free of bacteria and E. coli,” Ray said. “Otherwise, we would have to buy chemicals and spray everything down.”
Ray said officials do not know at this time how long it will take to re-open the playground portion of the park, but he remained optimistic that the final repairs would take place before the summer months.
Until then, residents are reminded to stay out of the play area where there is caution tape. During a committee of the whole meeting last month, Ray said people were not obeying barricades and caution tape.
“I put the barricades back every night before I go home and put caution tape around the play equipment,” Ray said. “We are just really struggling to keep people out of the park.”
As for Island Park, just south of Riverfront, total damages are still unclear.
The park, which featured a bridge across the St. Joseph River to a tree-shrouded island and playground, remains fully closed until officials can better assess the damage.
Ray told city officials during the meeting in late March that conditions were still too dangerous.
“I am not walking across that bridge until the debris is off,” Ray said. “The contractor is anxious to get out there, but I am holding him back until the [St. Joseph] River goes down. That current is extremely swift.”
Huff said during the meeting that the park would be a challenge to restore.
“There is a massive amount of debris leaning against the bridge,” Huff said. “This is the first time that the water has ever been that high.”
Huff said a contractor would have to be hired to remove debris from the bridge. Engineers will also have to test to assure that the bridge’s safety has not been compromised by the damage.
The longer it takes to get to the park, the harder it will be to recover the turf, Ray said. A lot of silt and sand was deposited around the park during the flooding. Ray said officials do not have an estimate on the cost to repair the parks at this time.
Fortunately, no other city parks were damaged by the flooding, Ray said. The Indiana-Michigan River Valley Trail was also not affected by the flood.