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Next Louisville: What the South End Wants

As Louisville prepares to elect a new mayor, WFPL has been looking at what different parts of the city want from a new mayoral administration in our series, “The Next Louisville.”  This time, we’re asking residents of the Southwest about their hopes and concerns.  One word crops up a lot when you ask them what they most want from a new mayor:


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So, at a recent forum for mayoral candidates, resident Joyce Willer showed up to hear what kind of attention they might pay an area she says gets forgotten.

“A lot of times in the South, are left out of a lot of things, that other people aren’t in the east end,” she said.

Willer uses a wheelchair, and she says accessibility is one example of the kind of service found downtown and in the East end, but badly neglected where she calls home: Pleasure Ridge Park.  Still, she says it’s worth staying put for the people of the south end.

“It’s like in the old times, people help each other out, neighbor helps neighbor, and especially in this economy, that’s made a big difference,” Willer said.

District 12 Councilman Rick  Blackwell also attended the forum.  He was anxious to hear from the candidates how they might address his constituents’ top concerns.

“We sent out a questionnaire to our constituents and got questions returned back, and the vast majority have to do with, really, development issues, and basically it just boils down to attention,” said Blackwell.

He says people in his district want more places to shop and eat – to spend their money closer to home.

“There’s a cry for retail.  We really don’t have much retail in the area, restaurants, still a big deal. And then amenities as well.  We’ve got the first stages of Riverview Park, but it’s the first stage, so how would the next mayor push that,” said Blackwell.

But some members of the community aren’t waiting for the next mayor to promote the South end as a great place to locate a new business.  Insurance agent Vince Jarboe is also president of a nonprofit business and neighborhood association called the Southwest Dream Team.  They’re trying to draw attention to the area, of course, but also to draw new businesses.  And the group’s Web site encourages residents and business owners to contribute to an ongoing “wish list” for the place, which so far includes a Barnes & Noble bookstore and more sidewalks.  Jarboe says it’s time for the city to redirect some of its development dollars to help grant some of these wishes.

“I believe that we have done enough funding for downtown projects,” he said.

Jarboe says he wants to partner with the city’s economic development office to try to attract some basic retailers – like bookstores and restaurants.  And he says the additional tax revenue from those businesses could help fund another wish on the list: amenities like better trash service, and parks.  But Jarboe says the priority is the retail.

“There’s a lot of people that live out in what we call the Southwest ‘dream team’ area.  Over 150,000 people live out there.  And I would challenge anybody to pick any other area of the metro area where there’s 150,000 people as underserved as we are in retail and in other ways,” Jarboe said.

That could take some attention from a new mayor.  And there may be renewed vigor to attract it.  There’s the formation of the Southwest Dream Team, and only a year and a half ago, a small business owner started a new newspaper called The Local Weekly, which covers only the Southwest.  Keith Salyer is one of its reporters.  He senses residents’ frustrations with the current mayor.

“There have been times where things have happened, like when Otter Creek closed down.  And it was just done.  It’s closed, that’s it.  There were no meetings about it, the mayor didn’t come out there and talk to anybody, no nothing,” said Salyer.

The city closed the park in nearby Meade County in January 2009 to help close a giant budget deficit.  The Mayor has paid some attention to the region – including green-lighting plans for a new, state-of-the-art library. But Salyer doesn’t see it.

“I think the new mayor needs to make his presence known more, not just hang out in the East end and on Fourth Street Live, and kind of act like Dixie Highway doesn’t exist.”

Exist it does, of course, announcing its presence with a brand new “Southwest Louisville Welcomes You” sign, hoping not to be forgotten.

-by Kristin Espeland Gourlay

In-Depth News Local News

In Depth: MSD Considering Buyouts To Prevent Floods

On August 4th, six inches of rain fell on parts of Louisville in about 90 minutes. The freak storm caused a flood disaster, especially in the western and southwestern sections of the city. In those flood-prone areas, the city’s combined sewer system could not handle the massive amounts of water entering drains. Now Metro Sewer District officials are looking for ways to allow more water into the ground instead of into the sewer.

Three weeks after the flood, west Louisville resident Felicia Gardner told a Metro Council committee that what happened on August 4th was a more severe episode of the flooding that happens during every hard rainfall.

“If any of this occurred in the east end on a daily basis, you all would be doing something about it,” she said. “You know it, I know it, we all know it. Let’s keep it real.”

The east end may not flood as often, but Metro Government’s options are limited when it comes to keeping neighborhoods dry. The combined sewer system underneath much of the city handles both storm runoff and waste water. Even though it’s one of the largest combined sewers in the world, it’s out of date. Parts of it were built more than a century ago, when there wasn’t much to prevent water from soaking into the ground instead of draining into the sewer.

“No one in the 30s ever envisioned the amount of build-out that we see today,” says Metro Sewer District director Bud Schardein.

The ground over the combined sewer was covered with houses and driveways so gradually over the years that Schardein says MSD didn’t realize a drainage problem was being created as it granted building permits. He says it’s financially and logistically unfeasible to rebuild the sewer, so other steps have to be taken to reduce the amount of water going into the sewer. That could mean using a federal grant to buy flood-prone homes in west and southwest Louisville and destroy them, thereby freeing up more ground to absorb rainwater.

“Even with very, very large combined sewers already in the ground, just because of the elevation of those properties or those neighborhoods, a very heavy rain will continue to inundate the areas,” he says.

“If the water had somewhere else to go, that would alleviate the pressure enormously,” says Rose George, author of The Big Necessity, a book about waste management. She says Louisville isn’t unique: all over the world, permeable ground has been paved over, leading to flood-prone neighborhoods.

“Creating more permeable ground is probably the best solution we have the moment because it simply gives the water somewhere else to go,” she says. “And therefore it doesn’t go down in the sewers and it doesn’t overload the sewers and you don’t have floods.”

Many of the residents that might be bought out are represented by Metro Councilwoman Judy Green.

“They get flooded frequently in a heavy rain,” says Green. “So I think that they are ready to go on and look for higher ground.”

Green says her constituents are tired of flooding, but there may be a problem with buyouts.

“Over at 23rd and Maple, where the houses are shotgun-type houses probably worth 15 thousand dollars, how are you going to realistically move to a new place or a new home for that amount?” she says.

The funding for buyouts isn’t yet secured and Schardein says he won’t try to force anyone to leave. In the meantime, MSD is installing backflow prevention valves in homes and encouraging property owners to build water-absorbing rain gardens at their own expense. Both can help prevent flooding, but Schardein says the water is always going to need someplace to go.

And to keep citizens informed of their options, Councilwoman Green expects the ad-hoc flood committee that she co-chairs to pass a resolution summarizing the causes of the flood and the city’s response in the aftermath.