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Grassley Tours Flood Damage In Eastern Iowa

Kate Payne/IPR
Sen. Chuck Grassley R-Iowa (left) and Davenport Mayor Frank Klipsch (right) hear from Scott Lehnert about the "devastating" damage done to his business, Great River Brewery.

Iowa’s senior U.S. Senator visited business owners and residents impacted by flooding in eastern Iowa Friday. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) heard from community leaders in the cities of Davenport and Buffalo, which were hit by record high crests of the Mississippi River.

Grassley is the latest in a slate of state and national politicians to see the damage dealt by the flooded Mississippi River earlier this month. The river crested at a record 22.7 feet in the Quad Cities on May 2, swamping some riverfront roads, homes and businesses, creeping into basements and bursting through a temporary flood barrier in downtown Davenport.

Much of the floodwaters have receded at this point, though mud and silt still coat some sidewalks and floors and sandbags still barricade some doorways. For a portion of businesses in the hardest hit areas, the damage is "devastating".  

Dawn and Scott Lehnert own the Great River Brewery, which was considered a flagship business in the east end of downtown Davenport. Local leaders credit the brewery for leading a trend of reinvestment in the area. Scott Lehnert broke into tears telling Grassley and Davenport Mayor Frank Klipsch that much of his specialized brewing equipment is “a total loss."

"This was definitely devastating. [...] It affects real people. Our business ended basically that day. There's no money. There's no nothing." - Scott Lehnert, co-owner, Great River Brewery

“This was definitely devastating,” Lehnert said. “It affects real people. Our business ended basically that day. There’s no money. There’s no nothing.”  

Grassley says he’s dedicated to pushing a disaster aid bill through Congress. The $17 billion package would include funding for flooded communities in eastern and western Iowa, communities impacted by wildfires in California, and additional aid for hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico. Partisan fights over the funding for the island territory have stalled previous attempts to pass the bill.

But Senate leaders have set a deadline of Memorial Day for reconsidering the bill, Grassley says.

“Senator McConnell, leader of the Senate, has told all of us that we’re going to have a vote one way or the other. We should not go home for the Memorial Day recess, which is losing four working days in Washington, that…without having tried once again to get this bill passed one way or the other.”

The recent floods on the Mississippi crested higher and lasted longer than any other on record.  Some Iowa researchers, local residents and a slate of Democratic presidential candidates have said the recent in floods in Iowa are due to climate change. Questioned by reporters in Davenport, Grassley said it is a factor.

"If you're asking me, is global warming real? And if you're asking me if the temperature has risen in the last hundred years, the answer is yes." - Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa)

“If you’re asking me, is global warming real? And if you’re asking me if the temperature has risen in the last hundred years, the answer is yes,” Grassley said.

In the context of a changing climate, some Iowa scientists say the state should rethink development in the floodplain – even consider taking vulnerable farmland out of production. Grassley says he’s not totally convinced.

“I think in some places. But not up and down every river,” Grassley said.

The city of Davenport has historically opposed investing in a permanent flood wall, in part because citizens value their unobstructed view of the Mississippi River, though the recent flood events have changed some minds in the community, and brought the philosophy under renewed scrutiny.

"You know we're all here for you. What does that mean? I don't know yet." - Davenport Mayor Frank Klipsch

Speaking with affected business owners, Mayor Klipsch pledged that the city would support them, help them reinvest and reopen their businesses. But Klipsch admits, he’s still not sure what exactly that will mean.

“How can we help you get back on your feet?” Klipsch asked Lehnert. “You know we’re all here for you. What does that mean? I don’t know yet.”

Much of the floodwater in Mississippi River communities has receded, but with more rain expected, forecasters are warning the river may rise again in the coming days.  

Kate Payne was an Iowa City-based Reporter