City hopes for Commerce funds for flood recovery


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Iowa City officials are hopeful that a visit from U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke today could mean more funding for flood-recovery projects.

Locke will announce new Commerce Department investments, which will be distributed to various areas to help with flood recovery from the floods of 2008, at the University of Iowa’s Beckwith Boathouse at 11:30 a.m. today.

Interim City Manager Dale Helling said he’s hopeful Iowa City will be awarded some of the funding.

“We anticipate an announcement on the federal grants that we will receive funding for flood relief,” he said.

Locke will also visit flood-damaged areas and tour “flood-resistant” construction on the UI campus.

He’ll be joined by Gov. Chet Culver, Rep. Dave Loebsack, D-Iowa, and Iowa City Mayor Matt Hayek.

Iowa City officials applied for two grants from the Commerce Department’s Economic Development Administration. If approved, the grants would provide $22 million to relocate the city’s north wastewater treatment plant and an additional $3 million to elevate both North Dubuque Street and the Park Road bridge.

The renovations are much needed, said Rick Fosse, the city’s public-works director.

Raising the bridge will help prevent backwater, which happens when an obstruction — the bridge in this case — causes a rise in the river levels.

The elevation of Dubuque Street, which would be accomplished by removing the old pavement and adding additional soil, would raise the street 10 to 12 feet. This would help keep the roadway safe for emergency vehicles and others in the event of high water, Fosse said.

Officials also hope to close the north wastewater-treatment plant and build another plant outside the Iowa River floodplain rather than spend money to protect it.

“Most of our flood mitigation in Iowa City is making room for the river and making room for future floods,” Fosse said.

The city has received funding for various flood-recovery projects, including several million from the state of Iowa IJOBS initiative, $5 million from the Community Development Block Grant, $1.5 million from federal earmarks through transportation programs, and $32 million from the local-option sales tax.

However, even if the city receives the grant, there will still be a $9 million gap in funding for the elevation of both the bridge and Dubuque Street and a new wastewater-treatment plant.

The city is pursuing other funding sources to pay for the projects, and it might be forced to use revenue and wastewater bonds to fill that gap.

Iowa City City Councilor Connie Champion said the grants would provide needed money for Iowa City’s flood-recovery efforts.

“We need some major projects done and it’s hard for a town of 60,000 people to have that kind of money,” she said.

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