Iowa City prepares to move forward with levee project

BY NICK HASSETT | MARCH 05, 2013 5:00 AM

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More than two years after Iowa City secured funding for the construction of three levees, the Iowa City City Council will hold a public hearing on the next step for one of the levees.

The City Council will discuss the plans, specifications, estimates of cost, and bids for the West Side levee project at a meeting tonight. The resolution on the docket directs city staff to notify contractors bidding on the project following the meeting.

City Councilor Connie Champion said the levee is important for protecting the homes of Iowa City citizens.

“This’ll help a lot of low-income people stay where they’re living,” she said. “I think we’ll have public support and council support.”

The West Side levee would offer protection of mobile home parks as well as around 20 businesses in the Commercial Court area.

Jason Reichart, a special projects engineer in the Iowa City Engineering Office, said the next step following the meeting would be to find a contractor.

“They’ll advertise the project and put it up for bidding,” he said. “On April 9, [the council] will award the project to a contractor, and construction should begin shortly afterward.”

The project includes the construction of an earthen levee, riverbank stabilization, and interior storm drainage improvements, extending approximately 3,000 linear feet along the western bank of the Iowa River from the CRANDIC Railroad Bridge to McCollister Boulevard.

“It’s easiest to say that [the levee] protects up to a 100-year flood event plus 3 feet,” Reichart said.
Reichart said some areas along the proposed levee would offer a greater level of protection based on the elevation, even up to a 500-year flood event, but the difference between the elevation varies along the stretch of land.

Federal Emergency Management Agency regulations require levees to be built at least 3 feet higher than a 100-year flood elevation of 644.5 feet, which would protect against flooding for something like the 1993 flood but not a flood as significant in magnitude as the 2008 flood, according to a previous statement from city staff.

The estimated cost of construction is more than $5.5 million and will be funded entirely with Community Development Block Grants.

The West Side levee was one of three originally planned for the Iowa River, along with the East Side levee and the controversial Taft Speedway levee.

Unlike the Taft Speedway proposal, which was shot down by the City Council on Nov. 27, 2012, Reichart said the West Side levee hasn’t faced major public opposition.

“The city owns the majority of the property,” he said. “It’s not like the Taft Speedway levee that left homes on the river side.”

David Purdy, a community development planner in the Iowa City Planning & Community Development Office, said the East Side levee has faced some problems with the design.

“The preliminary engineering report found issues with the way water collected behind the levee,” he said. “The levee itself could proceed, the problem is with the runoff water from the east.”

Purdy said the major projects using block-grant funds were still continuing, including the relocation of the city’s North Wastewater Treatment Facility.

However, Purdy also said the state has indicated that no additional block-grant funds would be made available for flood recovery from the 2008 flood beyond what has already been allocated.

“Hopefully, [the levee] gets out to bid this spring,” he said. “It’s a pretty important neighborhood, and important for the city to protect.”

Though Champion is confident the public will support this levee, she said anything could happen.

“No one could show up, 100 people could show up,” she said. “You never know in Iowa City.”

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