Crews pulling derecho debris from Marion waterways

Work estimated to cost millions and last through spring

Water flows through a tributary of Indian Creek last Wednesday as a worker with Southern Disaster Recovery uses a saw-eq
Water flows through a tributary of Indian Creek last Wednesday as a worker with Southern Disaster Recovery uses a saw-equipped grapple to clear trees and other forest debris from its banks in Hanna Park in Marion. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

MARION — Clearing Marion’s waterways of trees and branches downed by last year’s derecho is expected to cost about $20 million and take months.

City Public Service Director Ryan Miller said that between Indian, Dry and Squaw creeks in Marion, more than 500,000 cubic yards of debris is being removed.

“The goal is to have everything completed by June,” Miller said. The cost is eligible for reimbursement from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, he said.

A contractor, Southern Disaster Recovery from South Carolina, which handled tree-debris cleanup along Marion streets, also is cleaning the waterways.

Chip Patterson, vice president of operations for Southern Disaster Recovery, said that dealing with the winter elements is actually helpful for the crews doing the work.

“For our work right now, cold is better,” he said. “It makes getting in and out of areas we need to easier.”

Patterson said more than 40 people are on the cleanup crew, with the majority being in Iowa since shortly after the derecho hit Aug. 10. The crew recently stopped working seven days a week — and now is at six days.


As winter turns to spring, Marion’s creeks are no stranger to rising waters. Southern Disaster Recovery’s crew is working to prevent worse flooding than usual by removing the extra debris.

The contractor along with the city have mapped out different sections to work through, starting at the most downstream points and working upstream.

“The goal is to work from the south to the north for each waterway, and we identified outfall structures that are plugged,” Miller said. “The goal is to get those opened up before the spring. The goal is to identify the significant points and get those opened so we aren’t choking down.”

Currently, excavators with grapple saw attached are being used in different sections of Indian Creek to cut away and remove tree debris. Work on Dry and Squaw creeks will follow.

“The goal was to get the bulk of the heavier flow while it’s still cold,” he said. “So when we get to warmer months, the plan is to be in smaller drainages.”

The team will use turbidity curtains that extend across the waterways to slow the water enough to have extra sediment drop out, Patterson said.

Additionally, there will be designated crossing points assigned and flood-action plans to address any type of flooding, he added.

“One of the things that never changes is being tuned in to weather forecasts,” Patterson said.


Patterson travels around to the job sites that Southern Disaster Recovery has around the country. Its crews also are working on beach renourishment in Florida and hurricane work in North Carolina and Louisiana, among other projects.

Patterson, who lives in Greenville, S.C., said when he met Gov. Kim Reynolds in the weeks following the derecho, he told the governor that the storm truly was Iowa’s hurricane.

“But everyone we’ve encountered in Iowa has been really welcoming and helpful,” he said. “We really see the resilience this community has.”

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