Demolition of flood-damaged Iowa City homes begins


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The first of nine Iowa City houses damaged by the floods of 2008 was torn down by workers early Tuesday morning, a year and three months after the flooding swamped roughly 265 homes in Iowa City.

Shortly after 7 a.m., neighbors, camera crews, city officials, and demolition workers crowded the sidewalks of Normandy Drive. All eyes were on the teeth of a large backhoe as they dug into the roof of the one-story ranch home.

“Demolitions can provide some closure for residents who lost everything during the flood,” said David Purdy, Iowa City’s flood-recovery specialist.

In addition to 609 Normandy Drive, eight more flood-damaged residences are scheduled for demolition in the next eight days, five of which are also on Normandy Drive. Eight to 10 more houses are set to be demolished in October and December.

Shaun Bradbury, Iowa City’s special-projects administrator, said debris from the leveled houses will be deposited in the Iowa City Landfill.

Iowa City was the first community in Iowa to purchase homes earlier this year through the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Hazard Mitigation Grant Program, which provides grants to states and local governments to reduce the effect of future disasters. The grant stipulates the lots must be converted to green space within 90 days of demolition.

Ted Tanburg has lived on Normandy Drive since 1985.

“We’re losing the neighborhood,” he said. “Most of all, we’re losing the neighbors.”

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Purdy said 58 properties were eligible for buyout under the program. To qualify, houses must be in the 100-year floodplain and have sustained more than 50 percent damage. He expects 30 to 35 homes will be demolished with the program’s funds.

These projects are voluntary; the homeowners are not forced to sell.

Original offers for the homes were set at 112 percent of their assessed market value before flooding, Purdy said. Some interested homeowners are appealing the accuracy of the market value for their homes before selling to the city.

Freddy Highsmith, FEMA’s lead demolition specialist for Iowa, will supervise all of Iowa City’s demolitions paid for with FEMA grants. He also works in Coralville and Cedar Rapids, where he has overseen the leveling of more than 70 homes.

“The operation is about recovery of the community,” he said. “I’m here to make sure everything is running smoothly and all rules and regulations are being abided by.”

D.W. Zinser Demolition of Walford, Iowa, was contracted to take down Iowa City’s first nine properties at a cost of $83,521. Other costs include FEMA-mandated asbestos abatement, which was completed before the demolitions and averaged around $3,000 per household.

“Safety is most important,” Highsmith said.

In addition to FEMA’s Hazard Mitigation Grant Program, Iowa City may soon see more grant money for homes not eligible under the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has appropriated $214 million in a Community Development Block Grant for Iowa homes with more than 50 percent damage but lie outside the 100-year floodplain. Purdy said the state will announce the awards within the next couple weeks.

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