CORALVILLE — When she saw the looks on the faces of those coming back to City Hall from the sandbagged front lines of the 2008 floods, Assistant City Administrator Ellen Habel knew Coralville was losing the fight.
“We weren’t going to be able to protect everything we were trying to protect,” Habel said.
When the floodwater of the Iowa River receded in June 2008, Coralville found more than 200 businesses and 400 homes, as well as city infrastructure, had been damaged by the near-500-year flood levels.
In Coralville alone, the flood, which crested June 15, caused an estimated $32.5 million in damages.
One of those flooded businesses was Tallgrass Business Resources, a business furniture and supplies dealer.
Doug Parsons, Tallgrass president and CEO, said the Second Street business took on 3 feet of water in its warehouse and about 1 foot in its main building.
Tallgrass had opened in 1984 and got through the 1993 flood without taking on water, although it became an island surrounded by water.
After that close call, “there was nothing, really, we could do, quite frankly. The only thing we could do was relocate and, at that time, ’93 was considered such a fluky thing that we really didn’t consider that that was going to be an issue (again). And so we really didn’t do much of anything except get flood insurance.”
Parsons said he had about seven hour’s warning before the Army Corps of Engineers began releasing more water from the Coralville Dam, meaning the Iowa River would begin to rise.
His employees, he said, worked through the night to pull merchandise and supplies out of harm’s way.
Start to finish, it took about a month for Tallgrass to get the water out of its buildings and repair and remodel.
“We look at the cost of that (moving), and we looked at the probability of another flood like this happening, and what really kind of turned the tide for us, so to speak, was all the flood mitigation moneys,” Parsons said. “There might be a flood like ’08, but there won’t be an outcome like ’08.”
Coralville received $73 million in state and federal funds to complete flood mitigation work around the Iowa River, Biscuit Creek and Clear Creek.
All the projects were finished this spring, with the completion of a flood wall on the south side of Clear Creek and some pump station improvements on Highway 6, Habel said.
Habel said the city had an engineering firm’s staffers out during the floods, taking photos of where the water was going and how high it got. That enabled the city to immediately put out a request for proposals for flood mitigation projects.
Other major projects included the reconstruction and raising of the First Avenue Bridge over Clear Creek, the installation of stormwater pump stations along the Iowa River and Clear Creek, as well as flood walls and earthen berms in the city.
It’s taken 10 years.
‘MAKE THE BEST’
Additionally, the city also used local funds for buyouts along Historic Old Town. In 2012, the redevelopment plan called for 10,000 square feet of commercial space, 140 town homes and condos as well as the relocation of Old Town Hall.
“I wish with my whole heart that no one had to go through that,” Habel said. “Once that happened, then you have to deal with it as well as you can, and it is important to make the best of the situation you’re in and move forward.
“And I think that’s what we’re trying to do with redevelopment.”
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