Cattails still a hurdle for man-made wetland

Herald Staff Writer

JASPER — Prolific cattails in a man-made wetland at the State Road 162 bypass and Meridian Road are continuing to cause problems for Dubois County and the City of Jasper.

The wetland, mostly in the northeast corner at that intersection, was created after a joint project that extended Mill Street from 36th Street to County Road 400N in 2004. The new road disturbed a wetland, which led to 6.8 acres of land on the south side of the city being named a wetland to replace it. The new area had to be monitored with annual inspections for five years to ensure it met all the criteria set by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Indiana Department of Environmental Management, a process for which the county has been the lead agency.

The minimum five-year monitoring period ended in 2010 but, because of an overpopulation of cattails, the county and city haven’t been released from the obligation.

“The site itself is optimal for cattails,” County Engineer Jason Heile said this morning. “It holds roughly 6 inches of water for nine or 10 months out of the year. In areas like that, cattails are pretty hard to control.”

The county commissioners on Monday approved the submission of a new remediation plan to the corps and IDEM in the hopes of finding a compromise. The plan for this year includes three herbicide treatments and planting 70 trees that are 6 to 8 feet tall. The plan also asks to reduce the inspection requirement to allow the county engineer to visually inspect the property instead of having to hire an outside firm and to bump up the total allowable cattail population from 5 percent to 15 percent.

Heile estimated the cattail population is at least 18 percent, possibly up to 25 percent right now.

“We didn’t plant cattails when we created that wetland, but they found their way there like we knew they would,” he said. “I don’t know how it got set at 5 percent, but it’s definitely low.”

Chad Hurm, Jasper’s city engineer, said the wetland is fed by Jahn Creek.

“The hydraulics there have always been good; it’s just the vegetation that’s been a problem for getting released from the permit,” he said this morning. “Unfortunately, they consider cattails an invasive species. If you look at any pond around the countryside, the first thing you notice is cattails.”

The county and city evenly split costs related to the wetland. From 2006 to 2010, monitoring costs added up to $18,840. Heile said the county and city have been trying to work with the corps and IDEM since the last inspection in 2010 to adjust the requirements for the wetland. If the local governments are still required to hire an outside firm to survey the property, that process will now cost $5,000 to $6,000 each time, Heile said.

Herbicide treatments over the years have cost a total of $5,000. The three treatments planned for this year will cost $7,950 and purchasing 70 trees is estimated at $1,500.

“The whole thing kind of nickels and dimes you to death,” Heile said.

Hurm added that funding that has to be put toward continued monitoring and cattail treatments is money that otherwise could be used for projects that affect residents.

Both Heile and Hurm said the wetland could sort itself out if left alone for a few years to allow trees to grow and provide more shade, which cattails don’t like.

“We’ve argued that issue over the years, but haven’t gotten anywhere with it,” Hurm said. “They just don’t want the cattails and that’s what puts us in noncompliance all the time.”

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