"Little" though it may be in name, the Little Arkansas River that flows through Harvey County West Park has created what's become a big problem in recent years.
"Over many years, the river has eroded the bank on the west side enough that it's virtually at the edge of one of the park roads. It's become a very big concern and a rather significant hazard," said Road and Bridge Superintendent Jim Meier.
Following a flood in the summer of 2016, the Harvey County Parks Department took note of the increasing rate at which the river was eroding the bank — and threatening the safety of the road just south of the northwest park entrance (off of NW 36th Street).
This fall, with the county commission touring West Park, a plan of action began to be formulated on how to address the issue — and the next steps in that plan were approved at the commission meeting last week.
After the commission toured the park site, it directed Meier to get a survey of the area, which he brought before the governing body last week. In addition, Meier presented some projections on how best to repair and restore the river bank.
Based off what Meier has seen approved for similar projects, he suggested working with contractors to haul in rock (needing 2,255 tons to properly reinforce the river bank, according to his calculations) while one of his employees would man the excavator and work on forming/building up the bank. The proposed project would help restore a nearly 100-foot stretch of the west bank of the Little Arkansas River near the West Park entrance and extend the bank farther away from the road.
"What this approach does," Meier said, "is it encourages the river to take the right direction and, hopefully, discourage it from continuing the erosion that threatens the road."
Using an outside contractor with the right resources (i.e. sufficient trucks to haul the loads of rock), Meier estimates the project could be completed in a week — and hopefully in the early spring, before another wet season, as it continues to be a pressing concern.
"The way the river has eaten away at the bank, it's only going to get worse and it's going to get worse quicker. The more opportunity water is given the opportunity to eddy, the faster it wants to eat, and then it could take a larger portion of that road. So, I feel like it's important to address quickly," Meier said. "It's a safety hazard as it is, and we need to look at either restoring this bank or doing something else to protect motorists on this road."
One alternative commission chair Randy Hague brought up was looking into moving the road itself, but reinforcement of the bank is still the best option in Meier's eyes because allowing the erosion to continue unabated would just lead to greater risks down the road.
"The longer we ignore this, if we do move the road, the water will accentuate the problem quickly, and I think we've seen some of that already," Meier said. "It's going to probably surprise us how quickly it continues."
"My feelings on that would be we're much better off stopping this, because it's just gonna keep getting worse and worse," said commissioner Ron Krehbiel, in favor of the bank restoration project. "I personally think this is a much better way to go in and change that road. I'm for it."
Questions were raised if there may be any future erosion issues to the south of the proposed restoration project, but Meier noted he did not foresee any. Commissioners also questioned how such a project would be funded, with County Administrator Anthony Swartzendruber pointing out there is enough in the reserve funds to take on the restoration effort.
Given permission by the commission to proceed with the project, Meier will now seek the necessary permit from the Kansas Department of Agriculture Division of Water Resources. Seeing few road blocks to the project (i.e. minor excavation, no local endangered species), Meier said the DWR should have little reason to "balk" at this project and hopes it will be approved quickly to facilitate the next phase.