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June 2012
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Floodwall over time earned respect

By BILL RENZULLI Community Columnist

I have a confession to make. I was not impressed with Paducah's floodwall the first time I saw it.

I could not understand why the city would erect a structure that so effectively separated it from the expansive view of the river, its original blood line.

Our host told us about the '37 flood. (I never lived near water so floods were an abstract event for me.) I thought there could have been a more aesthetic way to protect the city from future floods.

Of course I had no idea what that could be, but then I did not spend any time thinking about it.

To be honest, I also did not spend any time looking at the murals, giving them only an impatient casual glance. I had more important things on my mind, like trying to decide if I wanted to move to Paducah.

It was apparent that Paducahans were very proud of their wall, so I kept these thoughts to myself.

It was only after we moved here that I took the time to look closely at the murals and learned to appreciate the quality of the art as well as the stories they told.

I began to understand the civic pride in the wall and it murals, but continued to harbor some resentment at the way it separated us from the river.

Flooding still remained something unreal to me, although I was impressed at how high the river could rise the first time I saw it reach above 30 feet. I never felt personally threatened by the water, even when the impressive floodgates were installed several years after our arrival.

The engineering was fascinating, and far more complicated than the simple process I had imagined it to be. The floodwall was beginning to gain my respect.

My relationship with the wall remained unchanged until three years ago when Mother Nature once again tasked the river to handle abusive volumes of water.

A harsh winter and heavy spring rains challenged the riverbanks; as the water levels rose, we were kept well-informed by the news outlets. Flood warnings were being issued on a regular basis.

For the second time since we moved here the floodgates were installed, and I offered a silent thank you to the wall. The river continued to rise and was approaching a level at which the wall had never been tested.

That was scary, and for the first time I experienced a real, personal threat to our home on Madison Street only a few blocks from the river. Standing by the wall, one could only imagine what lay beyond it: was the water up to my knees, my shoulders, or even higher?

Then I saw the satellite image that forever changed my feelings about the floodwall. Running from top to bottom in the middle of the image was a very thin, pale line.

To the left of this line were the floodwaters, a large mass of darkness. To the right was the city of Paducah, protected from this sea of water by that tiniest of lines, the floodwall.

At that moment the wall earned my unequivocal love and appreciation. In a heartbeat it became the most wonderful, beautiful, and amazing structure ever created by man.

I would never, ever again feel anything but appreciation and admiration for that beautiful wall that kept us dry.

I love our floodwall.

Bill Renzulli is an artist and retired physician who lives in Lower Town. Reach him at wfrenzulli@mac.com.

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