Residents of Tight-Knit River Neighborhood Losing Land, Losing Hope

Paul Bartosh's dream of having a home on the river where he could relax and watch the boats go by is slowly crumbling, along with his back yard.

PARKERSBURG, W. Va. — Paul Bartosh's dream of having a home on the river where he could relax and watch the boats go by is slowly crumbling, along with his back yard.

Just months after he bought his home on the Little Kanawha River, three barges on the rain-swollen Ohio River downstream broke away from a tow vessel and slammed into a lock and dam, preventing the dam's water-control gates from being closed.

That has meant the water level has been dropping in a 42-mile stretch of the Ohio River and in tributaries such as the Little Kanawha. Ten days after the accident in early January, pressure along the riverbank had fallen so much that the land started to slide into the water.

"What I bought was a riverfront property, said Bartosh, who lost a 25-by-75-foot section of his yard. "What I have now is a cliffside property."

While salvage crews work to free the last barge from the lock, residents of the riverfront section of Parkersburg named Happy Valley are hoping they don't lose their homes altogether.


Larry Callihan said the home he purchased 10 years ago has sunk a couple of inches in the past few days and his back yard has all but disappeared. His back door is now about 2 feet from a 20-foot drop-off.

"We love our home," he said. "We've dealt with five or six floods. We just can't deal with it no more. Old Man River's just taken a toll on us."

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers hasn't determined if the low water has caused riverbanks to slip. Spokeswoman Peggy Noel said bank failure can be influenced by a number of factors, including repeated flooding, which can loosen the soil.

Bartosh purchased his house after doing research that showed the area had never flooded, but since moving in last July he's been flooded twice. He said he'd like to see his property restored, but is losing hope. If necessary, he said, he will move.

Dan Bonnell has been living in a camper in his yard with his roommate and two dogs since September, when flooding caused by the remnants of Hurricane Ivan filled his house with 5 feet of water. His house took on 3 feet of water during flooding caused by heavy rain and melting snow earlier this month.

Bonnell recently started repairing his home with flood insurance money, but the damage he's anticipating from the rapidly disappearing riverbank isn't covered by his homeowner's policy.

"I love the river or I wouldn't have lived here 15 years and put up with the floods," Bonnell said. "But this I can't put up with."

Bonnell now hopes the home is condemned so he can move.

Mike Romine, who has lived in the neighborhood for 20 years, said Happy Valley usually lives up to its name. He said it would be a shame to see his neighbors leave because their lives are so entwined.

"River people are kind of like farmers," he said. "We helped each other out, we know each other. It's a great place to live ... but in the last year, it's turned into a nightmare."

Romine is also cleaning up from flooding, but he isn't sure how to handle the problem of the disappearing riverbank.

"Living on the river, you expect high water," he said. "But do you expect the river to go dry? No."

Wood County Emergency Services Director Ed Hupp said it could be another week or so before the last barge is removed and the water level returns to normal.

"It's just hard to believe," Hupp said. "After two major floods, now we're having problems because we don't have enough water."

Source: Associated Press