Last week's Iowa flood damage estimated at $5 million and growing

Damage to homes from last week's sudden flooding still being tabulated

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Preliminary estimates indicate last week’s sudden flooding in northeast Iowa caused more than $5 million in damages to public infrastructure.

Damage to homes — extensive in Decorah and nearby Freeport — has yet to be tabulated, according to the Iowa Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.

“The (Upper Iowa) river didn’t flood. It was flash flooding from so much rain in such a short time,” said Decorah City Administrator Chad Bird, who estimated city infrastructure damage at between $800,000 and $1.2 million, with roadways and trails most in need of repairs.

In Elkader, which had sustained damages of several million dollars in the record floods of 2008, “We got lucky,” said City Administrator Jennifer Cowsert.

“There was a huge sense of relief when the Turkey River crested well below its predicted height,” said Cowsert, who estimated the damage this time to city infrastructure at $80,000.

Following torrential rains Aug. 23, the Turkey crested Aug. 26 around 22.5 feet, the fourth-highest Elkader crest on record, but well below the National Weather Service’s earlier prediction of 27 feet.

The Upper Iowa at Dorchester crested Aug. 24 at a record 24.3 feet.

The worst damage was in Winneshiek County, where more than 8 inches fell in eight hours.

The estimated $2.4 million in damage to public property in Winneshiek County was almost as much as the $2.6 million estimate for public property damage in the seven other counties affected by the flooding, according to data from state emergency managers.

Winneshiek County Engineer Lee Bjerke estimated damage to county roads and bridges at $500,000. That’s if two bridges “with an unknown future” do not have to be replaced.

“We lost a lot of bridge approaches and a lot of gravel off the roads,” Bjerke said.

The damage was caused both by the flooding Upper Iowa and by flash flooding in numerous drainages, he said.

Though damage at individual residences has not been tabulated, the state agency said 165 sites were affected in Winneshiek County.

Of those, 10 were destroyed, 28 sustained major damage and 75 suffered minor damage, the agency said.

Flooding affected six sites in Fayette County and two in Allamakee, the department said.

The agency also gave damage estimates for flooded wastewater treatment facilities: Fort Atkinson, $422,500; Clermont, $200,000; Spillville, $75,000; Waucoma, $50,000; and Freeport, $20,000.

Allamakee County Engineer Brian Ridenour estimated damage to county roads and bridges at $200,000. “Our biggest expense will be restoring gravel that washed off the surfaces of our roads,” he said.

Ridenour said his crews have become proficient at repairing flood damage. “Unfortunately they have had so much practice that it has become routine,” he said.

Early estimates place Fayette County infrastructure damage at $410,000, Emergency Management Coordinator Lisa Roberts said.

The Conservation Department sustained about $250,000 in damage to its parks, with the remainder attributed to roads and bridges.

Fayette County Conservation Director Rod Marlatt said most of the damage occurred at the county’s two most popular parks — Gilbertson on the Turkey River and Gouldsburg on the Little Turkey.

Fayette County Engineer Joel Fautz said the county had road damage at 30 sites with an estimated repair of $60,000. “It was pretty much confined to the Turkey River valley,” he said.

The same was true in Clayton County, where Engineer Rafe Koopman estimated road damage at $40,000 to $50,000.

Several county and city officials expressed appreciation of a multiagency effort earlier this year to raise nearly $9,000 to maintain the Turkey River gauge at Spillville, which the U.S. Geological Survey had planned to discontinue.

“That gauge was invaluable. Its early warnings gave Clayton and Fayette counties time to prepare,” Winneshiek County Emergency Management Coordinator Sean Snyder said.

Several officials also lamented Facebook’s propensity to spread unfounded rumors about dam and dike failures that made their jobs more difficult.

“We never had to put up with that in 2008,” said Fayette County Conservation Department Director Rod Marlatt.

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