Life for youth baseball and softball players at Centennial Park could get a little easier this summer, as the city of Newton is moving forward with a project that should improve drainage of the park.

“We started arguing with the city about (this) a good seven or eight years ago,” said Scott Seier, former president of Babe Ruth Baseball in Newton. “We would lose a week of games every summer. If it would not have flooded, we would have lost one game, versus a week of games. There was a week or two every summer.”

The problem was blockage of a drainage ditch on the west side of Kansas Avenue. With a natural waterway blocked by trees and debris on private property, water would back up into the park.

“Even at Kenny Williams, it floods to second base now,” Seier said. “I am excited they got the drainage things fixed. It will help with flow. When you get 10 inches of rain, the water has to go someplace.”

Part of the struggle also came from what entities could get involved. The blockage in question was not within city limits. Seier said he spoke to the county and was told to go to the city. City staff said Tuesday that because the property was not within the city, "some of the tools we normally have were not available."

The tool the city did use was litigation — filing suit in district court. 

The city brought to a close the legal dispute Tuesday, reaching a settlement with the Royston Living Trust, which owns what is a farm field to the west of Centennial Park.

According to legal filings and a memo by city attorney Chris Towle, there is an “established natural watercourse” through Centennial Park that exits to the west under Kansas Avenue through two culverts. On the Royston property, just to the west of the culverts, are trees and “a large amount of vegetation that acts as an obstruction to the natural flow of water.”

In addition, debris gets caught in a fence constructed near those trees. The trees, fence and debris act like a dam, not allowing water to drain into a natural waterway within the farm field.

The city contacted the landowners in 2016, then filed a lawsuit to try and get the property owners to clean up the area.

Tuesday, the city approved a proposed settlement agreement that will dismiss a lawsuit against the Royston Living Trust and will allow the city to clean up the ditch. The cost to the city is estimated at $3,090.

Under the terms of the agreement, the trees will be removed along with debris, fencing and “other vegetation” that has created the blockage. The city will then grade the area and place rip-rap (loose stone used to form a foundation for a breakwater or other structure) near the culverts.

“It will cost us around $3,000 to do it ourselves. I think that we all felt like that in order to not force the landowner to do it, and possibly on a sub-par level that would cause us more problems in the future, it made sense to spend this money to rectify this,” said commissioner Leroy Koehn.

City engineer Suzanne Loomis said the soonest the project could start would be “early next week,” weather permitting

The project budget includes $1,500 for labor, $75 for use of a street loader, $200 for use of a grapple truck, $120 for use of a dump truck, $500 for use of a pickup and $20 for use of tools and chemicals.

“A fairly significant rain event and we still may have flood out there,” said Bob Myers, city manager. “There is still some very flat land out there and there will be issues. This should eliminate a lot of the problems we have had out there for the past several years.”

The project is one of several at Centennial Park that are either ongoing or finishing this spring. The city installed sewer lines in the park this winter, in preparation for the construction of new bathrooms. This month ground was broken to construct a new press box/concession area/bathrooms at Klein Scott Field.

In other business the commission:

• Proclaimed April 24 as Arbor Day.

• Proclaimed April as Child Abuse Prevention Month.

• Approved a special event request for the Headin’ For Home 5K on July 4 at Centennial Park.

• Approved a special event request to provide snow fencing for the Kansas Junior Rodeo Association rodeo May 12 and 13 at the Newton Saddle Club Arena, 701 W. First.

• Approved Industrial Revenue Bonds for Presbyterian Manor. Presbyterian Manor requested $36 million in Industrial Revenue Bonds issued by Wichita for projects in several cities including Wichita, Newton, Arkansas City, Dodge City, Clay Center, Emporia, Fort Scott, Lawrence, Olathe and Topeka.

• Approved a temporary alcoholic liquor permit for the Newton Downtown Car Show May 5.

• Approved a request for Bark in the Park to close the entrance of the dog park at Centennial Park along with picnic tables April 21.

• Approved a taxiway rehabilitiation project at the Newton City/County Airport. The FAA will pay about $216,305 of a total $240,341 project. The city plans to pay the city portion of the project with cash, instead of taking out loans.

• The city approved selling two pieces of property: one adjacent to 901 N. Elm Street and one adjacent to 314 Glendale Ave. The Elm Street property was a former utility easement the city sold to the adjacent property owner. The property on 314 Glendale Ave. was a 5,500 square foot lot and was sold to the adjacent property owner. According to city staff, neither property held any value to anyone other than the adjacent property owners. The city sold each property for $50.

• Approved the creation of a library task force to consider facility needs. The library has provided a list of possible nominees to city staff.