Public reacts to flood-mitigation proposal

BY MAX FREUND | MAY 11, 2011 7:20 AM

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Douglas Jones chiseled a mark in his driveway to commemorate the peak of the 2008 floodwaters.

The memory of that devastating event led him and 20 other Iowa City residents to attend an informational meeting at Lincoln Elementary, 300 Teeters Court, on Tuesday to discuss proposed plans to build flood-protection structures.

And while the plan for the specific project discussed has not been completed, many residents insisted officials should look at any potential effects of projects individually — not in combination with other city plans.

"There needs to be an overall assessment of the situation and make sure it is not going to have any negative effect on anybody," said Iowa City resident Greg Geerdes. "It needs to be a neutral proposal."

The project specifics on display detailed a plan for a permanent pumping station to be installed somewhere along Rocky Shore Drive, as well as removable floodgates to protect portions of Highway 6. The area was submerged during the 2008 flood.

Instead of traditional sandbags, the new floodgates would be lightweight aluminum and easy to install. This would allow personnel the ability to move on to other projects quickly during a flood, said Ben Clark, the special-projects administrator for Iowa City.

The project is slated to begin construction late this year with a budget of almost $6.6 million through the Iowa Department of Economic Development Community Development Block Grant. And while this proposal is just one of many taking place in Iowa City and Coralville, some residents expressed concern that it would make no difference if Park Road bridge was not raised.

"The key to the whole story is what they do with Park Road bridge, that bridge was a dam," Jones said. "They have to elevate it, or else these floodwalls end up being washes and doing nothing."

Numerous attendees expressed concern over ensuring that each proposed project provides a benefit on its own.

"I am concerned that no one has analyzed the impact of these flood-mitigation projects separately," said Mary Murphy, an Iowa City resident since 1990. "It is an unknown yet whether the Park Road bridge will be raised and completed as projected. It seems very unfair or unequitable to potentially provide more water to downstream neighbors."

This concern is one that Clark said will be addressed with future modeling.

"We are going to analyze that; we have gotten a study prepared that takes into account all of the projects, and what happens with the bridge being elevated, it actually lowers the elevation through the whole area," he said. "I think people's concerns are if we build this project first, before we elevate the bridge, what is that going to do? So what I think we will do is run another model to address that."

But one Iowa City resident suggested a minimal, and more economical solution to the flood problem.

"You try to protect one area, you push water to somebody else," said Joel Wilcox. "The best thing really in the end is to not do anything."

And while Wilcox's solution seems unlikely to take hold, the meeting concluded with residents and city officials alike agreeing that flood protection is complex, and requires careful planning.

"The water has to go somewhere," Geerdes said. "You cannot just wave a magic wand and make the water disappear."

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