State Allocates $15M To Flood Projects, But Leaves Some Proposals Unfunded

Sep 17, 2019

A state board has signed off on $15 million to buy out damaged homes and to build and repair levees in western Iowa. But some flood recovery projects are being left on the table.

The Iowa Flood Mitigation Board voted this week to set aside millions of dollars to demolish damaged homes, including in the hard-hit western Iowa communities of Hamburg, Hornick and Pacific Junction.

The flooded Missouri River overtopped its banks this spring, tearing through levees across southwest Iowa, transforming farm fields into wetlands, inundating roads and destroying homes.

In the wake of the devastating flooding, the city of Hamburg in Fremont County requested funding to repair its levee and to buyout 73 homes, most of which held “as much as 8 ft. to 11 ft. of flood water for over 30 days” according to the city’s application to the flood mitigation board.

“Hamburg has spent all available funds including savings; the City is and will continue to operate on borrowed funds. The flood expenses that the city is experiencing has surpassed our yearly budget,” city staffers wrote in the application. “We respectfully request the Iowa Flood Recovery Fund to greatly help our displaced.”

The state board agreed to help the community, but declined to allocate all the funding requested.

The board allotted $940,856.55 for buyouts in the city of Hamburg, and $6.3 million for levee construction, roughly half what the city requested.

The city of Hornick was allotted $2 million; Fredonia allotted $135,550; Mills County was awarded $2.3 million and Pacific Junction $3.1 million.

But after the board allocated all $15 million, the state is deferring other flood projects.

One is a property buyout for a home built on a hillside in eastern Iowa’s Muscatine County that collapsed due to heavy rains, rendering it inhabitable.

Eric Furnas with the county’s planning, zoning and environmental board says the homeowners have not yet qualified for any disaster money and have few options.

“It’s just unsafe for human occupancy. So they are no longer able to live in their home, not that they really wanted to anyway. So they are having to stay with friends at this point because they haven’t received any disaster funding so far,” Furnas said.  “I think our greatest hope is that there would be another round of funds maybe allocated from the Legislature to the Iowa flood recovery.”

Some Senate Democrats had pushed for $50 million in funding for flood recovery projects this session, but lawmakers agreed on $15 million instead.

According to board staff, if the projects allocated funding don’t spend it all, that amount could be rolled over to other proposals. Otherwise, it’s up to lawmakers allocate more funds.

In the meantime, a proposal to expand a flood wall around Davenport’s Modern Woodmen baseball park is being deferred, as is a Missouri River levee project in western Iowa's Pottawattamie County.

Cedar Rapids Democratic Sen. Rob Hogg is in favor of investing more in the state’s flood recovery. He advocated for a larger funding package last session and said on Twitter this week that lawmakers’ decision to limit Iowa’s Flood Recovery Fund to $15 million is leaving Iowans’ needs unmet.

“In addition to leaving out multiple applicants and future applications right now, the Republican majority has failed to meet the needs of communities across Iowa which have already applied for pre-disaster hazard mitigation federal funds but haven't been funded,” Hogg tweeted.

Due to recent heavy rains upriver, parts of western Iowa still devastated by the flooding from earlier this year could see more high water this week.