An old iron bridge in the Vallonia Bottoms could become an island, while a nearby home could soon wind up in the river.
The culprit? Erosion on the banks of the East Fork White River.
Jerry Ault, superintendent of the Jackson County Highway Department, recently shared his concerns about Bridge 193 with the Jackson County commissioners. He’s afraid the road that leads to the bridge could be “eaten up” by the erosion.
The bridge has been closed to traffic since 2005, when a new bridge was built just to the south to carry traffic on South County Road 375W. Concrete pillars prevent vehicular traffic from going onto Bridge 193.
Ault and County Building Commissioner Conner Barnette also told commissioners about a home in the area that is affected by erosion.
In the past six years, Barnette said the riverbank has eroded more than 70 feet, affecting the home’s foundation and causing a porch and concrete steps to come off of the house. A family of five, including three children, recently were court-ordered to leave the home because of its unsafe nature.
That prompted commissioners to have county attorney Susan Bevers proceed with having the house condemned and torn down. The family and the home’s owner, however, aren’t wanting it to be torn down.
Commissioner Drew Markel said when he recently visited the area with Barnette, there was nearly 10 feet of dirt between the house and the river. But when he went back a few days later, the dirt was gone.
“The White River has completely wiped the foundation clean on the river side (of the home),” Markel said. “By the look of the river, if it keeps going, it’s going to cut itself around the back side of these bridges and chart a new course for its life in a different direction.”
Standing 15 feet from the riverbank in one area, Markel said he could feel the river under his feet.
“The way the water comes off of that corner, it’s almost like it’s a fire hose,” he said. “It’s pretty impressive if you go down there and look at it. It’s really getting with it. For some reason, the water right there is like a little auger, and something needs to be done very quickly.”
Barnette said the family has asked when they can return to their home.
“Until something is done with that bank, I don’t think we let them back in because it’s just too big of a liability,” he said.
“I can tell you that no one needs to be in that house, period,” no matter the level of the river, Markel added.
Commissioners President Matt Reedy said he wants to see the home condemned.
“I want to do whatever we need to do,” he said. “Nobody needs to be going back in there.”
Markel said county officials never want to tear someone’s house down, but this is a unique situation because of the safety concerns.
In terms of fixing erosion around Bridge 193, that process may take a while.
That’s because of the time it takes to receive permits from the Department of Natural Resources to do any work around a river.
From the abutment of the bridge to the corner of the home, Ault said he would like to place shot rock and put a barrier behind it to keep erosion down, but some of that work would be out of the county’s right of way.
“That’s where the riptide is coming down. The main channel of the river is right there,” Ault said.
He also wants to take a small peninsula off of the opposite side of the river and redivert the channel of the river to go more in line with the bridges. Doing that, however, would require the approval of nearly 30 organizations, he said.
County Surveyor Dan Blann said the permitting process is lengthy. One time, he said the county asked permission for a low-water crossing on the Muscatatuck River, and it took more than three months to get the permit even though the crossing wasn’t on the main channel of the river.
“It’s one of those things that needs to go ASAP to get a permit even six months from now,” Blann said.
Applying for a permit also will require submitting an engineering plan, he said.
“Whatever route you decide to take, you’re going to have to hire an engineering company to put the design specs and the plans together to submit to DNR to start the permit process,” Blann said.