SEDGWICK — Fred Bright of Sedgwick has a problem, and it is getting bigger and bigger. His back yard is disappearing — not because of some kind of disease killing his grass and plants, but because of erosion of the Sand Creek banks that is slowly taking away his property.
Bright purchased his current home at 102 E. Eighth on the 100th anniversary of the home's construction — in 1977. His family renovated a barn on the property, adding a cabana, workshop and bathroom. For 35 years, things were good.
Then things started to change about five years ago.
“Within the past five years, due to high water, driftwood and stuff flowing downstream, it began to accumulate in the corner where the creek turns … to the west,” Bright said.
The property line, in official abstracts, is in the center of Sand Creek.
“That center keeps moving towards us,” Bright said with a chuckle. “... It has washed into our backyard, and ripped out our fences. It has torn out our irrigation system.”
An old building foundation on the north of the property is gone, washed away by the creek.
A large pile of brush has started to divert the waters of the creek, and that has caused the erosion of the Bright's creek banks and back yard. That pile of brush is decades old.
It is also something that has been discussed for decades. According Tom Cowan, president of the Sand Creek Watershed, the watershed district has discussed how to clean up that brush pile and help preserve the creek beds.
However, the watershed is unable to do anything.
“We can not go off our easements, we are restricted to those,” Cowan said. “It would be a fiasco to try something.”
Not that the watershed has not. Following a large ice storm about 10 years ago, the watershed district attempted to get funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to clean up the brush pile — along with some other work as well.
That, however, did not pan out.
“They shot that down pretty quick,” Cowan told The Kansan. “The told us we could not go off our easements too. … This is something that I am interested in personally, because I live south of there. … We could revisit it.”
Cowan told The Kansan he believed the National Resource Conservation Service could help with a project to both clean up the brush and restore the banks of the creek — and he would be right. There was a move by the NRCS to do just that, but that has fallen apart.
According to Bright, the NRCS had funding available that required a 30 percent match from a local governmental agency to do the work. At the time that project was being pursued, the city of Sedgwick was part of the application.
However, the city of Sedgwick has backed away from the project. Sedgwick has run into budget problems — so severe they have given up their EMS license within the past year. In addition, within the last year, there has been the resignation of a mayor and the dismissal of a city manager.
When The Newton Kansan contacted city leadership about this story, the Kansan was referred to the city's legal counsel. The city's legal counsel was not available for comment.
The 70 percent match was approved. However, that agreement has lapsed. The first estimate for the project was between $45,000 to $50,000. Bright said that since that estimate, the problem has only grown larger — and that will likely mean even higher costs.
Representatives of the NRCS confirmed for The Kansan that the project went out for bids, and those bids were higher than initial estimates. It was at that time that a project was scrapped and Sedgwick chose to not move forward.
That leaves Bright in a difficult spot — the NRCS will not contract with an individual. According to NRCS representatives, the program requires a governmental entity to match the funds. That entity could be Harvey County, if the county were to choose to take on the project.
Bright went to the county in search of help this week, though it is unclear what the county can do to assist.
“The county may not be able to be a player, aside from serving as a facilitator in this,” said Anthony Swartzendruber, county administrator. “We need to talk more with state NRCS to see what the options are.”
The county will be doing some research, trying to find out just what entity will be responsible for repairing the banks of the creeks that are eating away at Bright's property.
That, however, will not be easy. Bright has already discussed the issue with the Sand Creek Watershed, the NRCS, the Army Corps of Engineers, an emergency watershed group, the City of Sedgwick and the Department of Agriculture. Despite all of that, he has not been able to get action taken.
Bright wants to preserve his own property, but there are also other concerns. Should the pile move, rather than be removed, there could be issues for a number Sedgwick homeowners.
“In my opinion, what you see here is the tip of the iceberg of what could happen,” Bright said.
In his mind, one of the worst things that could happen is the brush pile washing southward — about a block or so south there is a bridge constructed by the county that could hang it up on. If that happens, there could be serious problems for more landowners.
That could lead to flooding on the south side of Sedgwick.