When James Lookingbill bought the building at the intersection of state roads 58 and 135 in Freetown four years ago, it was to fulfill his wife Shirley’s dream of having her own store.
By opening Granny’s Corner, the couple wanted to bring more commerce and retail business to the small Jackson County community. And it was a way to highlight Shirley’s talent for crocheting and knitting.
But the Lookingbills’ dream has since become a nightmare because of problems with flooding.
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When there is a heavy rain, the water quickly fills up the culverts in front of and to the side of the store and then overflows onto the Lookingbills’ property.
The couple said they were unaware of the flooding issue before they purchased the property.
The water gets so high it goes underneath their building, which is more than 100 years old, and has caused serious damage to the flooring.
“I had one wooden beam on this whole side of the building that we had to replace,” Shirley Lookingbill said. “And one of the problems with that is that we had to get native lumber because of the age. That’s a lot more expensive.”
They paid $2,000 to have the rotting beam replaced as a result of the water damage.
The beam is now rotting again because of the continued flooding, and the floor in a back room has separated from the beam and collapsed, she said.
“So now I have a problem where water is actually coming into the building,” she said.
The flooding also goes across both state roads, and James said he is worried it could cause a bad wreck because of the speed at which motorists drive on State Road 135.
If the problem was just the result of flash flooding, the Lookingbills said they would have to blame Mother Nature. But the couple believe there are other issues going on and are looking to the Indiana Department of Transportation for help.
“Any time we have a downpour is when I have this problem,” Shirley said.
“We’re not talking about major storms,” James said. “We’re talking about a half-hour of a good rainstorm.”
James has tried to protect the property by cleaning debris out of the ditches and building up a concrete berm around the building. He also has placed hoses to try to divert water from the ditches and away from his property.
“I’m going to do what I have to do to protect this building,” he said.
Their first attempts in 2013 and then again last year at working with INDOT to investigate the problem left him with a bad taste, James said.
“I took one look at their faces and said, ‘This isn’t going anywhere,'” James said.
At that time, he said he was told by INDOT that his driveway was too wide and needed paved and that he needed a permit to bring in gravel.
“I told them that I would get a lawyer and sue the state,” he said.
But James said he is not out for money. He just wants the problem fixed.
Recently, he and Shirley met with INDOT again after contacting State Rep. Eric Koch’s office to try to work it out and find a solution.
On Sept. 4, Becky Gross, technical services director, and Jim Ude, special projects engineer, from INDOT’s Seymour District office visited the site and spoke with the Lookingbills.
They visually examined the culverts and looked at pictures the Lookingbills had taken of the most recent flooding Aug. 12.
Gross said she would like an INDOT hydraulics team to survey the whole area before taking the next step. That could take up to six weeks, she said.
“I don’t want to do something that affects everything,” she said. “I want to help the situation, not hurt it.”
Shirley said she believes part of the problem is caused by a difference in size in the culverts. The one that takes water along State Road 58 is a 24-inch pipe that connects to an 18-inch pipe, which then flows into another 24-inch pipe, she said.
“That creates the bottleneck,” she said.
Gross said he agreed with that assessment.
The pipes, however, look to be in good condition, Ude said.
But the Lookingbills said the condition of the pipes doesn’t matter if they aren’t working properly.
Some of the ditches in the area have been allowed to grow up, and the community itself has developed, adding driveways and cutting off drainage, too, Shirley said.
“So we get all of the water that is coming from uptown,” she said. “It can’t drain farther down 135 because the culvert is absolutely blocked off.”
She also said she thinks years of repaving the roads has built the road higher than the surrounding properties, increasing the drainage onto their property.
“There’s a whole conglomerate of issues that is causing this flooding problem,” she said.
The Lookingbills said they are willing to pay for the materials to install a new, bigger culvert in front of their business if the state would install it.
James said he asked INDOT the first time where the state right-of-way and easement begins and ends so that he could do something on his own, but he never received an answer.
“That’s because we don’t know,” Ude said. “We don’t have any records of it.”
Ude said it is INDOT’s responsibility to manage and maintain the culverts and ditches along state roads, but James said he is the one that has been mowing the ditch and picking up debris so it doesn’t clog up the culverts.
Gross said the state has cut mowing cycles because of funding and staffing.
“I know you all notice it because we notice it, too,” she said.
As a taxpayer, James said he believes he has the right to complain until the state fixes the flooding problem.
“What do I get for my tax dollars?” James asked. “This is what burns me up. Should anybody put up with this?”
Shirley said if the state highway department doesn’t do something this time, then she doesn’t want them fighting her and her husband when they decide to dig it out and fix it themselves.
“If I can’t get help from you guys to resolve the problem, then I have to resolve the problem on my own,” Shirley told Gross. “And if it ends up flooding the highway when we have a little downpour, then so be it. I don’t know what else to do.”