City-backed levee proposal fails before Iowa City City Council


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The Iowa City City council rejected a measure to construct a controversial $8.1 million levee to help protect against floodwaters Tuesday evening, saying the arguments against the flood-mitigation project outweighed the benefits.

“We have to be very judicious in way we do protection,” City Councilor Susan Mims. “We have to think about the impact it has on other people in other areas: the minute you put up a levee, it affects other people.”

The proposed project — dubbed Alternate 7 — would have involved the construction of an earthen levee around the Idyllwild neighborhood and Parkview Church primarily along the Taft Speedway between Dubuque Street and No Name Road. The west side of the levee would have tied into the high ground along No Name Road, and to the east it would have tied into high ground north of Taft Speedway.

The proposed flood-mitigation project was one of eight proposals for the area, which ranged from establishing a floodwall to establishing a levee and floodwall system. The proposals ranged in estimated costs from $3 million to $14.3 million, The Daily Iowan has previously reported.

The National Housing and Urban Development Disaster Recovery Office would have administered the funding through a Community Development Block Grant the city would have had to apply for.

However, councilors and community members expressed doubts that the levee proposal met the requirements of the grant, including that “existing conditions pose a serious and immediate threat to the health or welfare of the community for which other funding is not available.”

“This is federal money, taxpayer dollars that would pay for this,” said Gary Sanders, an Iowa City resident. “Should we really be spending $8 million to save people who have bought property on speculation after the flood? To me, that’s just not right.”

Roughly 15 community members spoke during the public discussion, including some members from the Idyllwild and Taft Speedway neighborhoods. Most opposed the levee, though several thought the Idyllwild condominiums did not have the same level of flood response as other affected areas.
City Councilor Michelle Payne said the council should use logic rather than emotion in deciding the issue.

“Spending 8.2 million for 92 people while putting more in danger is too much money for the benefit of a few,” she said.

Discussion surrounding flood-mitigation for this neighborhood is not anything new to the council.
Following the 2008 flood, many expressed concerns about how to mitigate risk around this area of the Iowa River. In 2009, city officials called a levee “the best option for providing a long-term benefit to the community,” the DI has previously reported.

Not all opposed the city-backed project on Tuesday.

Iowa City Mayor Matt Hayek and Councilor Terry Dickens were the only councilors to vote for the proposed levee.

Hayek said he was satisfied with the city staff’s evaluation, which recommended the council move forward with the proposed levee, and thought the levee was consistent with city efforts.

“To put this in perspective: This levee is something I think is consistent with long term flood-mitigation protection strategy that the city has pursued in the past four and a half years,” he said.

Though the resolution was ultimately shot down, Hayek proposed a follow-up resolution to explore other methods of dealing with flooding for such areas as Idyllwild, and City Councilor Jim Throgmorton expressed interest in finding other avenues for the federal grant.

“We should identify alternative uses of [block grant] funds to benefit low- to moderate-income households,” he said. “[The levee] would be an inappropriate use of those funds.”

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