Taft Speedway residents challenge Iowa City’s proposed levee

BY IAN STEWART | JULY 01, 2011 7:20 AM

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Jim White stood in the middle of Taft Speedway on Thursday and gestured toward the row of houses between him and the Iowa River.

“I don’t like to see these as houses,” he said. “I see them as homes.”

White, who lives on Taft Speedway, led a tour of a stretch of street city officials say could be made into a levee. The neighborhood was inundated in the 2008 flood, but the proposed raising of the street has residents on the riverside concerned.

“Any road that’s raised will affect all of us negatively in the community,” White said to the handful of locals who came to the “levee walk.”

The street, which would be raised between 4 and 15 feet, would follow Taft Speedway and No Name Road between Dubuque Street and Foster Road, encircling the Idyllwild Neighborhood and Parkview Church, but it would leave around nine residences on what the residents’ attorney, Wally Taylor, calls “the wrong side of the road.”

Since 2008, there has been much debate about mitigating risk around this bend in the Iowa River. In a July 2009 request by the city for Disaster Recovery Funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, city officials called a levee “the best option for providing a long-term benefit to the community.”

City Councilor Regenia Bailey, who was the mayor during the 2008 flood, said that while she understands the situation is “very difficult and frustrating,” the city has properly handled the project.

“The council had very focused and deliberative conversations about what we need to do to protect neighborhoods in Iowa City,” Bailey said.

But Taylor, who has worked with the residents since December, said that his clients’ primary concern is that they were being ignored.

“The plan for the levee was undertaken with no reference to those folks at all,” he said.

Taylor said some of his clients contacted state and federal officials in an attempt to get answers to their questions about possible adverse affects of the levee.

The funding for the grant has been put on hold until the city conducts an impact study in response to residents’ concerns, said David Purdy, Iowa City’s community-developmentplanner. On July 5, the City Council will consider whether to commission the consulting firm HDR to examine potential risks resulting from the proposed levee and alternative flood-protection projects. Taylor said he sees consideration of an impact study as a victory for the homeowners he represents.

Among the concerns raised at Thursday’s event was the possibility of increased flooding across the river from a future levee.

“Common sense tells you the water has to go somewhere,” said Mary Murphy, who lives in the Parkview Terrace Neighborhood, just upstream and across the river from the Taft Speedway neighborhood. “It’s wrong of the city to protect one neighborhood at the expense of others.”
And Murphy was not the only vocal opponent of the proposal.

“I think it’s a wrong project at a horrible cost both financially and environmentally,” said Iowa City resident Gary Sanders. Initial projects put the cost of the levee at upwards of $10 million. Sanders, who has friends in Parkview Terrace, said rather than possibly saving some areas at the expense of others, there should be “equal risk” for all riverside properties.

But Bailey offered a different interpretation of the situation.

“The objective really is to protect the greatest number of residents, the greatest number of properties,” she said.

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