Delays put money for Taft Speedway levee in jeopardy

Council still deciding whether to move forward with project

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IOWA CITY — Iowa City could lose an $8 million federal grant for a controversial levee, but first the City Council must decide whether it wants to build the structure at all.

Community development planner David Purdy told the City Council during a work session last night that, because so much time has passed since the Floods of 2008, state officials say the levee being considered for Taft Speedway Street may no longer meet the “urgent need” criteria under which the grant was awarded.

The project has been delayed because residents who oppose a levee lobbied the federal government to require further study of its possible effects on the area where it would be built, along the Iowa River in northern Iowa City. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development provided the grant, but the state plays a role in administering it.

That study was just completed, and city staffers presented it to the council last night.

State officials plan to withhold their verdict until the council decides whether to move forward with the project, Purdy said. It’s possible that the money could still go toward another flood project, he said.

Council members asked questions about the study but will save a discussion on the merits of the project for a Nov. 27 meeting.

“We’ve come this far, we’ve commissioned an exhaustive report — frankly we owe it to ourselves, our staff and the community to make a decision,” Mayor Matt Hayek said.

The levee would be intended to protect the area north of Taft Speedway, including a 92-unit condominium complex. But it would leave the nine homes left on Taft Speedway between the levee and the river.

Staff said if the council chooses to build a levee, it should go with an option that calls for an earthen levee up to 8.5 feet high at a cost of about $8 million.

That would provide protection three feet above 100-year flood levels. It would be below where water reached in 2008, but temporary measures could be added to the wall during a flood, said Rick Fosse, the city’s public works director.

If the council does not proceed with a levee, staff are recommending that a north route be developed to access the Peninsula neighborhood in case the only current street into the area floods, Fosse said.

He warned that if nothing is done, the city probably cannot protect the condo residents from future flooding.

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