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Davenport Flood Commission Seeks More Community Input Before Council Deliberates

Kate Payne/IPR file
Davenport's flood task force is seeking more community input before formally asking the city council to approve next steps for how to protect the city's 9 mile riverfront.

Davenport’s flood task force is entering a new phase of deliberations, seeking more input from community members. Some on the panel feel pressure to get a proposal in front of the city council before the current mayor’s term ends.

Over the past two months, the group has heard from a slate of experts, including climatologists, hydrologists and engineers. The group of some two dozen members has heard in-depth discussions of how this year’s record-breaking flood has impacted city infrastructure, how climate change is affecting the state’s rivers systems, the history of the state’s land use transformation from prairie to farmland.

Tuesday’s meeting was the third of three meetings that were initially scheduled. But as the discussion wound down, some members voiced concerns that there hadn’t been sufficient input from community members. Alderman Kyle Gripp says that’s an important part of the process, before the group formally asks for the city council’s approval on next steps.

“The issue for me is, it’s not that we’ve had too many ideas out there, it’s that we’ve heard from the experts but we haven’t heard from the community members, which is an important step that we need to do before we go out for this [request for proposals],” Gripp said. “Which I agree we need to get there, but if we’re looking at, this is going to take a decade to do, we don’t need to rush two weeks and then wait for ten years.”

The group decided to schedule at least one more meeting for later this month, before officially asking the council to move forward with a request for proposals on what Davenport’s ultimate approach to protecting its 9 mile riverfront should be. Group members say the issue will likely go before the council during its meetings in September.

Bill Cappuccio is the state’s coordinator for the National Flood Insurance Program, and has worked with communities across Iowa. He says he hopes Davenport develops a comprehensive vision, as the city of Cedar Rapids did in the wake of the 2008 flood.

“In trying to get an idea of what your vision is for the city, then try and fit your project around what that future vision is, as opposed to just trying to take and fix what today’s problem is and what today’s situation is…look at what you want the next chapter of the community to be, and make whatever you do fit that,” Cappuccio said.

The city’s Flood Task Force and its deliberations have been organized by current Mayor Frank Klipsch. But he’s not running for another term and voters will go to the polls in November to choose his successor.

Paul Rumler with the Quad Cities Chamber of Commerce says that adds some urgency to the panel’s work.

“I’ve been pushing for more dedicated resources, more specific plans so that way this doesn’t become a political issue, where a new administration, because the mayor is not running for re-election, where a new administration comes in with some different thoughts or some different priorities and then all this work goes for nothing,” Rumler said.

Klipsch said at Tuesday’s meeting that the city likely needs a dedicated coordinator who can steer Davenport’s future flood response going forward, helping formalize the city’s plans, and working with local residents, businesses and community groups, as well as local, state and federal agencies. At this point, Klipsch says it’s not clear who that person might be.

“Eventually we need a champion for this,” Klipsch said. “And we gotta figure out who that champion is going to be.”

Kate Payne was an Iowa City-based Reporter