2018 flood closed Island Park. Now the city of Niles wrestles with what it might cost to reopen it | Local

The bridge to Island Park in Niles is closed on Monday because of structural damage caused by a major flood in 2018. The city is now debating what to do with the park.

The bridge to Island Park in Niles is closed on Monday because of structural damage caused by a major flood in 2018. The city is now debating what to do with the park.

The neighborhood park sits in the St. Joseph River just behind her house on the west bank, south of the Broadway Street bridge.

She’s lived there with her husband, Steven, for eight years — he’s lived there for 23 — and they used to regularly stroll across the footbridge from Parkway Street that leads over to the park.

“It’s a beautiful place,” Isbrecht said. “We all love this river. … People do want a place to enjoy the water.”

But Island Park, more than a century old, was a casualty to historic flooding that hit the area in February 2018.

Flooding isn’t uncommon at the park. It’s happened a dozen times in the past nine years, City Administrator Ric Huff said.

But the 2018 event was bad. More than a year after floodwater rushed over the island, deposited muck 2 feet deep and twisted the bridge, the little city park remains closed, a gate at the bridge entrance padlocked.

No one on City Council voiced an appetite for spending that amount of money during a recent wide-ranging discussion about the park’s future.

Overarching the council’s discussion was the question of who would miss the park if it was closed for good, which would be the least expensive option.

The strip of land — which measures roughly a couple of football fields long and one football field wide — has trees for summer shade, children’s swings and a slide, a picnic shelter, grill and a few benches positioned for river-watching.

Mayor Nick Shelton and council member John DiCostanzo, both west side residents, said they themselves didn’t use the park or take their kids or grandkids there.

In all the time the park’s been closed, DiCostanzo said he hasn’t received any calls or emails about it. Shelton and another council member said they had received “a few” calls.

Isbrecht described the park usage she’s seen as “steady” but not “a ton” of people. The past year she’s seen people approach the locked gate and walk away wondering.

Kyle Molnar, 21, who recently moved to Niles to a home not far from Island Park, eyed the park the other day as he walked by, wondering where he could drop a fishing line. He hopes the city reopens it. But Molnar enjoys kayaking, too, so he said he could imagine another way onto the island.

Kayakers do like to stop off at the island, Huff said, which is a reason he’s in favor of keeping it accessible by bridge, even if the council decides not to keep up the park. The bridge would offer the quickest route for emergency services if someone needs help.

Some council members, though, questioned spending possibly tens of thousands of dollars to fix the bridge unless the park is reopened. And reopening the park for any purpose might require fairly expensive cleanup of sediment.

The flood lifted and twisted the bridge’s wooden deck, which now is “not resting on the piers correctly,” Public Works Director Joe Ray said. Walking across the bridge is doable, but it isn’t safe for public use or for moving heavy parks maintenance equipment, he said.

Huff said the only way to really know the cost of repairing the bridge would be to put the project out for bids.

But city officials talked in rough terms of about $80,000 to $100,000. The cost could be covered with insurance money and the city paying a portion of maybe up to $50,000.

Cleaning the island of sediment and fallen trees could be just as expensive. A landscaping contractor who visited the island suggested a $100,000 cost, give or take, city officials indicated.

Council members talked about dismantling the damaged playground equipment and not restoring the play or picnic spots, but rather letting the island go mostly wild, with maybe open areas the city would mow.

Ray said if the park is reopened to the public at all, the sediment and possible hazards buried in it should be removed.

“Anything you can imagine coming out of the South Bend wastewater treatment plant has the potential to have landed on the island,” he said.

Riverfront Park, which flooded downstream in February 2018, tested high for bacteria and required extensive sediment cleanup.

Or, the city could leave the crippled bridge closed, pluck the playground equipment off by crane and post caution signs on the island.

Closure would end a long Island Park era. The Niles Women’s Progressive League purchased the island in 1912, built the bridge and dedicated a park in 1913, according to Mollie Watson, assistant director of the Niles History Center. The club eventually gave the park to the city.

She would love to have her neighborhood park reopened. At the same time, she understands the cost to the city could be prohibitive.

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Post time: Apr-17-2019
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