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IC eyes Burlington Street dam recreational remodel

BY NATE OTJEN | AUGUST 24, 2012 6:30 AM

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Recreation on the Iowa River from Burlington Street to Benton Street could be in Iowa City’s future.

City officials are applying for additional grants to hire consultants to ease the process.

A project to modify the Burlington Street dam on the Iowa River is nearly underway. One of the key points is creating opportunities on for recreation such as kayaking, canoeing, and swimming for Iowa City residents and University of Iowa students.

“It’s a pretty challenging site,” said Steve Long, the community development coordinator who has been the driving force behind the project.

In July, the Environmental Protection Agency provided Iowa City with a $60,000 urban-waters grant to study how modifying the dam will improve the river habitat, flood mitigation, and the revitalization of the Riverfront Crossings District.

Long will apply for an Iowa Great Places grant and a Low-Head Dam Safety grant to acquire more funds for the initial consulting of the project with a total estimate of an additional $70,000 to $100,000.

The funds from these grants would be used to hire a consultant to assess the dam and pitch the best idea for making the project possible. City officials want to award the project to a consultant/engineering firm by Sept. 14.

“It’s a fairly costly venture, so we need more funds to cover the costs,” Long said. “We’ve had a lot of interest from potential consultants because it’s an important location.”

Long is asking the winner of the bid to work on scenarios, including how they would design a channel for fish and how people would use the river for recreational purposes.

Long and his team have researched at least 30 different projects across the United States, including sites in Fort Bend, Fort Worth, Tulsa, and a site in Georgia. They studied many different factors, including cost, size, and the drop of the dam.

“We haven’t found any [situations] yet that are as uniquely located as this site,” Long said, because the site is near the center of town and the University of Iowa campus.

Long said the entire process from start to finish will take at least two years.

Officials finished a similar project in Charles City, which now has a whitewater and riverfront park, and city officials were encouraged by the success of that area.

One UI student said opening the Iowa River for recreational activity could greatly benefit student organizations on campus.

“It would be something really cool to do and could add a lot of fun,” said UI senior Lance Marshall, a previous vice president of the UI Water-Ski Club.

He said the Water-Ski Club would be very interested in waterskiing in that area once it’s opened. Marshall said the group has used area for activities.

Brian Mildenstein, a UI graduate who works at his parents’ store, Fin and Feather, 125 Highway 1 W., said city officials should ensure that recreational opportunities are accommodating to all ages.

“Indirectly, it adds a quality of life impact to the community,” he said. “I think the city has taken a hard look on it.”

Long wants to move forward by having a lot of community input go into this project to make it into something the community desires.

“We definitely want to have a lot of public involvement and public meetings,” he said. “That’s important. I’m looking forward for a day when we can see people using the river again.”


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