Councilors to vote on levee construction grant


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Iowa City city councilors are scheduled to decide whether to accept a grant for the construction of three levees at tonight's City Council meeting.

Councilors discussed the issue with Jeff Davidson, the city's director of planning and community development, at Monday night's work session.

"I think the question … is do you intend to build these levees or not," he said.

The three levees — one on the west bank and two on the east bank of the river — would be paid for in part by Community Development Block Grant funds that provided $15.7 million for construction.

The city would pay the difference, said Rick Fosse, the director of Iowa City's Public Works.

The city can decide to complete all, none, or a mix of the three levee projects, Davidson said.

Councilors also have to decide whether to build the levees to fit the 100-year or 500-year floodplain.

Construction of a levee on Taft Speedway — along the Iowa River — would require a road to run along the top of the levee and some "very careful engineering," Davidson said.

Cost estimates for a levee on the Taft Speedway prepared for a 500-year flood plus 3 feet is $11.76 million.

Councilor Susan Mims asked Davidson if the city is committed to building the levees if the council accepts the grant money.

There is a chance the city could keep the funds if it backs out of the project in preliminary design, but it's not a certainty. The city would likely have to return the remaining money if the levee is not built.

"If you run into something that really changes what your application said you wanted to [do], there is a chance that we would be able to keep the funds we had expended up until that point," Davidson said.

Mims asked if there were other options instead of an earthen levee, but Davidson said the grant had to apply for a more permanent structure.

After concerns were raised about residents living on the river side of the levee, Fosse said those issues would emerge during design.

"If we go down this road, we start on a journey," Councilor Regenia Bailey said. "It's not just one decision."

Taft Speedway residents Joel Wilcox and Mark Phelps, who attended the session, questioned the construction of a levee in their area.

Phelps said he was concerned about the lack of concrete design plans.

"We're spending $15.7 million, and we don't have this engineered," he said.

Wilcox, his neighbor, had similar misgivings.

"I just don't think it's the right thing for our neighborhood right now," he said.

But Mike Crawford, a six-year Idyllwild resident, said he approved of levee construction.

"Obviously, it will protect our 92 houses," he said.

Crawford said he understands the design and engineering phase are significant for the project but said he wasn't concerned about a few design plans as long as the council ended up providing a levee.

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