Editor’s note: This is part of a series of articles on Triplett Creek.
On March 3, 1969, Morehead Mayor William H. Layne signed an agreement with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to widen, straighten and dredge Triplett Creek.
Soon thereafter, he uttered words that ultimately would fall to the ground, to be swept away years later by the oft-swollen creek:
“Morehead will never again flood.”
Those words rang true for a season, but in the mid-1980s the drumbeat of dredging echoed once again after debris, silt, grass and trees began obstructing the once clear-channel.
The Triplett Creek Channel Improvement Project matched the Corps expertise with local excavators and construction companies to alter a two-mile stretch of creek between Bridge Street and Brady Curve.
David L. Braughler was one of the men who dug the creek.
“We actually changed the course of the creek just below the dam where the college has its water intake,” Braughler recalled.
“We straightened it there and it’s much wider now than it was then,” he said.
D.L. Braughler Company, Inc. won the Corps bid along with Lexington-based Bluegrass Construction Inc.
They brought in heavy equipment for the task. A 4.5 cubic yard dragline on a 100-ton crane dredged silt, gravel, tires, trash, auto parts, old trees and more from the creek, while two 18-yard rubber-tired scrapers moved dirt. Banks overgrown with trees and brush were removed.
They laid excavation materials as spoil banks, creating a levy from the dam to a distance of 1,000 feet downstream.
“You can’t do that today, but that’s the way it was done then,” Braughler said.
When the yearlong project ended, Triplett Creek was deeper, wider and better than it had ever been.
Braughler said when they completed the job all went well for a time, but he told the administration that it would require maintenance.
“It was certainly doing its job for a number of years. I told Mayor Layne that it would eventually silt over if the city didn’t maintain it,” Braughler said.
The city’s obligation to maintain the creek was spelled out in the original agreement signed by Layne.
A copy on file at City Hall stipulated certain “assurances” as conditions of the contract, one of which states “the City of Morehead will accept, maintain and operate without expense to the United States the completed improvement”.
It further stated that the project would be maintained “in accordance with regulations prescribed by the Secretary of the Army”.
Those regulations included regular maintenance schedule to inspect for debris, erosion and ecological conditions.
Adequate measures were prescribed to ensure that inlet and outlet channels along the creek were kept open and that “all trash, drift, or debris not be allowed to accumulate near drainage structures.”
Channels and floodways were to be clear of debris, weeds and wild growth, and the capacity of the channel or floodway was not to be reduced.
These unfulfilled assurances are what local citizens have pointed to in frustration over that last two decades, as chronic flooding once again became a problem.
A records search at City Hall revealed that during several of the year when the Corps returned for routine inspection of the Triplett Creek project, it was deemed in need of maintenance.
Inspections letters dated July 1973, August 1985, August 1989, July 1993, August 1994, January 2003, all directed the city to perform maintenance to remove buildup, clear tree and creek growth on channel slopes and to remove silt, gravel and rocks that were forming shoals in the channel bottoms.
Records also revealed several mayoral administrations attempted to address the problem—all of which were hampered by a lack of funding.
On February 15, 1989, heavy rains fell in Morehead, accumulating more than 10 inches in some areas.
Although there was no loss of life, then Mayor Jack Roe sought to remedy the growing problem of flooding along the creek.
In letters to the governor, the Kentucky National Guard and the Corps of Engineers, Roe wrote:
“For quite some time the city’s administration has been concerned about the condition of the creek; however, our maintenance department has neither the proper equipment nor sufficient manpower.
“Now our concerns are paramount. We were lucky this time. Although many were evacuated from their homes and roads were closed, no lives were lost. Our concern lies with the next heavy rains, we may not be so lucky,” Roe wrote.
The city sought funds for a project to restore the creek to its 1972 condition. The Triplett Creek Channel Improvement Project was to bring vegetation under control, remove silt and find allow contractors to haul fill materials for private use.
The city would be required to allot $95,000 in matching funds for a state hazard mitigation grant. Roe sought funds from the Gateway Area Development District, applied for a $250,000 hazard mitigation grant to remove 35,000 cubic yards of accumulated silt, gravel and sand. That funding request initially was denied but eventually the city enlisted the support of the Guard’s 201st Engineer Battalion to perform the work.
Again in 1998 some creek work was done, during the project it was discovered that spoil was being placed on the banks, a violation of the permit guidelines. A cease-and-desist order followed and the project limped along to completion.
Since then, certain areas along the bank remain prone to chronic flooding. In recent months, the tenor of citizens affected by it has risen in proportion.
Last Monday, a group of concerned citizens appeared at a special meeting of the Morehead City Council prepared to demand more action by the city to mitigate flooding problems by clearing Triplett Creek.
Unfortunately, there was no opportunity for public comment, but the group said they would attend the June 13 meeting.
In the next article, read how citizen groups then and now have tried to pressure the city to honor its agreement to maintain Triplett Creek.
Noelle Hunter can be reached at email@example.com or by telephone at 784-4116.