Flood spending rises like river


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Summer flooding has again hit Iowa City’s financial bottom line.

Addressing a full room of economic-development officials, architects, and community residents, city councilors mulled over information presented in relation to this summer’s flooding during a council work session Tuesday.

Widespread flooding has walloped several areas of Iowa City and the University of Iowa since late June and has resulted in the third-largest flood in the city’s history, Iowa City Public Works Director Rick Fosse said.

Beginning July 1, the city has spent approximately $530,000 for the installation of HESCO flood-protection barriers, storm-water pumps, and labor, Fosse said.

City staff took initial steps to respond to the most recent round of flooding on June 16, when an evening thunderstorm tore off a portion of roofing at a storage building under construction at the city’s South Wastewater Treatment Plant, 4366 Napoleon St. S.E.

It is not yet clear how much the damage to that storage building will cost.

Complete damage estimates from current summer flooding should be available in the next two weeks, Fosse said.

In order to help combat approaching floodwaters, city officials installed roughly 360 feet of two-level HESCO barriers on the South Wastewater Treatment Plant property on June 30.

City Councilor Susan Mims thanked city staff for providing “adequate flood response time” but cited concerns from frustrated residents of the Peninsula Neighborhood who have spoken out against limited access to and from their homes.

The Peninsula Neighborhood, one of the city’s fastest-developing residential and commercial developments, has only one access road available from Dubuque Street from Foster Road. In recent months, residents have clamored for a second access road as developers continue to break ground on new housing and commercial uses and traffic increases.

Rising floodwaters in the summers of 2008, 2013, and 2014 have shut down North Dubuque Street, a critical arterial road that connects Interstate 80 to downtown Iowa City and several North Side neighborhoods.

According to recent traffic counts, Dubuque Street sees more than 25,500 cars each day.

But despite another summer of flooding, Mayor Matt Hayek said the increased level of engagement by city councilors has helped spawn a stark differences between 2008 and the current summer flooding.

“It’s just a night and day difference,” he said.

Still, one councilor expressed disappointment in U.S. Army Corps of Engineers officials because of flood monitoring and outflow levels at the Coralville Reservoir.

Councilor Jim Throgmorton said he has lost faith in the Corps’ ability to properly and adequately manage the Reservoir in recent years as communities throughout Johnson County have had to battle increased outflow numbers since 1993.

“There is a widespread belief among Iowa City residents that the Corps intentionally left the pool [of water at the Reservoir] high to please boaters,” Throgmorton said. “But I’m not a dam manager, I’m a damn politician.”

He said he would like to see a more transparent relationship among Corps officials, city staff, and the public develop in the future to prevent widespread flooding. One option to improve transparency, he said, would come in a series of public listening posts hosted the Corps. 

Citing the need to be mindful of the city’s relationship with Corps officials, Hayek told Throgmorton that change at the federal level would need to result.

“As long as I can tell, our relationship with the Corps is a good one,” Hayek said. “I don’t want to affect that.” 

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