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Flood-Prone Town Will Move--Uphill : Disaster: The people of English, Ind., got fed up with being washed out. They want a new start in a new location.

September 30, 1990|CONNIE CASS | ASSOCIATED PRESS

ENGLISH, Ind. — The people of English, fed up with floods, are packing up Main Street and moving to higher ground.

In one of the most ambitious projects of its kind, the town plans to tear down or move more than 70 homes as well as the library, the bank, the newspaper and about 30 other businesses.

The new downtown will be a mile away, on a hillside now covered by cornfields and trees.

The town of 650 people in one of the state's poorest counties hopes to raise $6 million for the move from half a dozen state and federal agencies.

"The town's made the decision to move and we're going to move. We don't blink an eye to anyone when we say that," said Tony Pappano, a community developer hired to plan the move.

About 75% of English will be torn down or moved, Pappano said.

Five inches of heavy rain to the north can wreak havoc in English, which stands where three creeks flow together to form the Little Blue River.

Most of the time, the creeks are quiet and shallow enough for children to go wading without getting their knees wet, but they can rise 20 feet in hours when carrying runoff from thousands of acres to the north.

Floods have struck occasionally during the town's 150-year history. The worst on record sent 13 feet of water down Main Street in 1979.

It was a flash flood that struck early on the morning of June 7, and forced more than 100 residents to flee their homes, that convinced Town Council President John Merrilees.

"We're going," he said. "There's too much lives and property at stake not to."

Other flood-prone towns have been moved, but English is planning one of the largest such projects in the country, said Bill Powers of the Federal Emergency Management Agency's Chicago office.

The three-member Town Council voted last week to condemn the flood plain that is at the heart of the town. People who live there will be forced to sell their property to the county.

The next step is to annex and zone about 600 acres to the northeast, which will double the town's size. The area should be annexed within two months, Pappano said.

A FEMA architect and a $44,000 planning grant from the agency helped English come up with plans for a new downtown--and a new road to connect it with the buildings left behind.

"We want to keep the entire town together. We don't want an old town and a new town. It will all be one English," Pappano said.

The town would like to make the flood plain area into a park, perhaps with a golf course and tennis courts, Pappano said.

All that depends on how much money can be obtained from the state, FEMA, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Commerce Department and anyone else willing to help.

Some elderly residents are apprehensive about the move.

Temple Real, 82, said he has lived on Camp Fork Creek all his life and sees no reason to leave now. His house took three feet of water in 1979, but since then, no flood has topped porch level.

"When you've lived some place all your life, you respect it," Real said. "Someone else maybe doesn't and wants to move away. That's all right, but they should leave me alone."

Few people have objected to the move because the town has been dying for years, Pappano said. Empty storefronts pepper the two blocks of businesses along Main Street, and several house along 5th Street, the town's other main road, are for sale.

"Crawford County is historically the most economically depressed county in Indiana and the world is moving without them," Pappano said.

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