Central Avenue au naturel | Arkansas Blog

Central Avenue au naturel

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Interesting debate going on over in Hot Springs. The city, the National Park Service and a consulting firm are discussing the huge tunnel that runs under Central Avenue through the heart of the city -- the tunnel that couldn't handle the floodwaters iof 1990 that devastated the downtown area, including some of the bathhouses in the National Park. Hot Springs Creek, which drains the excess thermal waters as well as drainage from the mountains that bracket the downtown area, flows through the tunnel and emerges south of the downtown area.

The Park Hotel, which sits across Fountain Street from the National Park at the north end of Bathhouse Row, has inquired about the possibility of obtaining the famed thermal waters for use in bathing at the hotel. This would require running a pipe through the huge tunnel, which the consulting firm says would increase the chance of another devastating downtown flood.

The park's superintendent, Josie Fernandez, is quoted by The Sentinel-Record as wondering why the tunnel couldn't be opened up by tearing up Central Avenue and replacing it with a grate that would open up Hot Springs Creek (which flows through the tunnel). One of her reasons is that this would be "more natural."

An excerpt from The Sentinel-Record follows on the jump.

Discussions are now being held between the city, National Park Service and Atoka officials to see if there are any viable alternatives that could be implemented to provide flood control and the delivery of hot water through the creek arch.
    "Was it ever considered to just remove the tunnel in general and use some sort of bridge grating system in place of the street so the water would be free flowing?" Hot Springs National Park Superintendent Josie Fernandez asked at a meeting Tuesday.
    In a sketch to illustrate her idea, Fernandez indicated that if the tunnel was opened up, fill material around it could be removed, which would open up the creek channel.
    Jerry Overton, with Atoka, pointed out that very little fill was added to the sides of the creek and in most cases, the walls of the creek channel are the original sides except in some cases where the wall is actually the basement wall of a bath house.
    "If you removed all the fill, you would not increase the volume of the channel by all that much – maybe 25 percent. That (installing an open grate) means that instead of having a tunnel for water flow, you’d have an open channel for the same amount of water to flow through. The water would still get to the same height."
    "But it would be more natural," Fernandez said.

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