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With levee proposal shelved, Iowa City City Council looks forward

BY NICK HASSETT | DECEMBER 04, 2012 6:30 AM

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They held an almost four-hour meeting, full of debate and public input. Now that the Iowa City city councilors have officially voted down the proposed Taft Speedway levee, they are looking ahead.

The council will discuss Councilor Jim Throgmorton’s suggested activities related to the decision not to proceed with the levee during today’s meeting. The conversation will include financial aid for Idyllwild condominium owners who lived in the area prior to the 2008 flood and suffered significant damage.

Throgmorton said that he supports some sort of action for the community in the interest of fairness.

“It’s a very complicated situation,” he said. “We’ll try to come up with the wisest and fairest decision.”

The council voted 5-2 against the proposal, with Mayor Matt Hayek and City Councilor Terry Dickens voting in favor.

The proposed project — dubbed Alternate 7 — would have involved the construction of an earthen levee around the Idyllwild neighborhood.

Alternative 7 would have protected the Idyllwild neighborhood against flood levels up to a 100-year flood event plus 3 additional feet, which would provide adequate flood protection for something like the 1993 flooding, but not something as significant in magnitude as the 2008 flood, city staff said.

But as much of the public filed out of the room after the vote last week, the council created a resolution to discuss more options for the area, which all seven councilors supported.

Hayek said the resolution asks city staff to look into the issue of rainwater flooding in the Idyllwild area, which has caused flooding separate from the river.

In response to Throgmorton’s suggestions, Hayek said he didn’t think the council or city staff would support a financial-aid option, and said he would support spending money on protection for floods.

“[Financial aid] is a significant use of local public money,” he said. “I’m concerned about the precedent it might set for other areas hit by natural disasters; there’d be pressure to offer the same for others. It’s not a realistic approach.”

Both Hayek and Throgmorton said their minds on the levee had largely been made up before the meeting and before the public input.

“[The councilors] had made up their minds based on communication going back several years,” Hayek said. “Most of the arguments had already been made. By the time we got to vote, there was nothing new to offer in terms of information.”

However, Throgmorton said councilors shouldn’t make up their minds too early in the process.

“It’s important to keep our ears open,” he said. “We might hear something unexpected.”

Much of the public opposition to the project revolved around residents of Idyllwild buying flood insurance and the possible repercussions of a levee for other residents of Iowa City, such as those living on Taft Speedway just downriver. All in all, around 15 community members spoke at the Nov. 27 meeting, with more from the Idyllwild community in attendance.

“This was one of the top-five issues I can remember since I’ve been on the council in terms of generating public input,” Hayek said.

In a move that seemed unlikely to many, the council voted against the recommendations of city staff to support the levee.

Rick Fosse, the Iowa City Public Works director, said the council voting against staff recommendations happens on occasion.

“A lot of things come up in discussions that take place during the budget process [with city staff],” he said. “It’s why that process exists.”


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