Council accepts grants to build three levees


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Iowa City city councilors voted on Tuesday night to accept grants for the construction of three levees they hope will serve as protection from flooding.

A $15.7 million grant from Community Development Block Grant funds will pay for the three projects — one on the west bank and two on the east bank of the river. Any cost over that amount will be covered by the city.

Though the council passed the first two levees with little discussion, the final one — intended to protect 92 condominiums in the Idyllwild neighborhood — sparked some debate.

The Taft Speedway/No Name Road levee, estimated to cost $11.76 million, will leave nine homes on the river side of the levee.

"I am concerned about the people who are living on Taft Speedway," Councilor Connie Champion said. "I'm going to be upset, but I'm going to support this."

Approximately 15 Idyllwild and Taft Speedway residents addressed the council Tuesday night with their concerns.

Wally Taylor, a Cedar Rapids lawyer representing the nine families living on Taft Speedway, recommended the council vote against the levee. He said residents were concerned they hadn't been involved in the decision process.

"There ought to be a solution that satisfies and benefits everyone," he said.

Though they faced opposition, councilors ultimately agreed the levee was the best option, if not by much.

"We need to do what provides the most benefit to the greatest number of citizens in a community," Mayor Matt Hayek said.

The levee from Highway 6 to the CRANDIC Railroad is estimated to cost about $4 million and the levee from McCollister Boulevard to CRANDIC Railroad is estimated to cost about $4.2 million.

The projects will be required to cover at least 3 feet above the 100-year floodplain, and councilors will now have to decide whether they want the levees to reach the 500-year floodplain or somewhere in between.

Councilors decided to move forward with the levee projects in part because they are permanent options as opposed to temporary flood measures such as sandbags.

Councilor Susan Mims said she would have liked to use temporary options, but noted it wasn't financially practical.

"I don't think that's a responsible way to spend taxpayers' money," she said.

If the city were to back out of the project, it would likely have to return the grant money. But this would be unlikely, Mims said.

"Given the set of circumstances … I think it would be irresponsible for the council to not take advantage of this," she said.

The design plans for the project are not yet complete, but Mike Crawford, a member of the Idyllwild community board of directors who supported the levee, said that isn't a bad thing.

"We look forward to the opportunity to have that input," he said.

Opponents of the levee are also looking forward to having a say in the process.

"I'm disappointed," Taft Speedway resident Joel Wilcox said. "But it wasn't completely unexpected. It's very hard to turn down money."

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