Proposed floodplain maps could eliminate Akron’s business park

Posted February 1, 2020 at 10:11 pm

By Julie Ann Madden

With the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) revising area floodplain maps that don’t make sense to Akron city officials and entrepreneurs, they appealed to Iowa legislators for assistance.

On Friday, Iowa District 5 Rep. Tom Jeneary and Iowa District 3 Senator Jim Carlin met at Akron City Hall with 20 concerned citizens.

City Administrator Dan Rolfes explained his frustration — first at not having access to the proposed maps in a timely manner due to the DNR’s website requiring users to have GIS software, then getting little response from the DNR in regards to the data he supplied and questions he’s asked, and finally a Jan. 8 email suggesting city officials wouldn’t have time to appeal whatever the DNR decided.

DNR officials are claiming the Plymouth County Drainage Ditch which runs along the north edge of the Akron Golf Course would flood the area in a rain event but city officials note the only time it has left its bank was during an 8-inch-rain-in-2-hours when the nearby railroad bridge was plugged with debris.

The only thing that flooded were airplane hangars near the drainage ditch — it didn’t reach any of the businesses, said Plymouth County Supervisor Gary Horton, who had been Akron’s city administrator at the time. That problem has since been corrected.

“Nothing has changed with that drainage ditch — the hydrologic flow is still the same,” said Rolfes, adding the Big Sioux River has broken its 100-year flood records four times in the last 10 years, and none of the business/industrial park has flooded. In fact, in the Flood of 2014, the drainage ditch backed up some but never topped its banks.

They want to put the park in the floodplain but other Plymouth County drainage districts’ watersheds where we’ve seen recent flooding aren’t, he said.

On Jan. 8, an emailed response from DNR GIS Lead Floodplain Mapping employee Chris Kahle stated they would be creating a “2D” model since the original “1D” model was apparently treating local flooding as a storage issue showing the whole Akron Business Park would flood.

The “2D” model will give “real time water run through event” data but it will take time to create, slowing down the mapping process for the whole county. Therefore, “there will be a very minimal chance for appeals once we move forward as we cannot afford more delays,” wrote Kahle. Furthermore, city officials would have to review the “2D” model over the phone.

“It’s kind of like ‘We’re going to ram this down your throats and this is the way it’s going to be.’ I’m not a big fan of that,” said Rolfes explaining that’s why he’s appealing to legislators.

DNR’s original revision would not only put Akron’s whole business/industrial park into a floodplain but it would require new businesses to increase lot elevations about 5 feet before building; and all businesses, including existing businesses, would be required to have flood insurance even if they have completed Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Letter of Map Revision (LOMR) requirements and were declared out of the floodplain.

DNR officials are using LiDar data from a 2008 flyover, explained Rolfes, noting he’d informed DNR officials since that time, a water retention pond was installed and stormwater drainage projects completed. In addition, two businesses, Capital Car Wash and A-W Rentals, have been constructed in compliance with current Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRM) requirements. Furthermore, Wendt Auto Repair construction and Heyl Truck Lines expansion have received DNR approval and are set to begin construction soon.

Heyl Truck Lines CEO Alan Heyl told the legislators the map proposal makes no sense and it would end his plan to expand in Akron.

How they are coming up with these elevations is another red flag, said Rolfes, adding DNR officials are creating computer-generated maps without physically visiting the area or taking into account what city officials know about local flooding.

“The (base flood elevations) would have us 10 feet under water,” said Alan Heyl, CEO of Heyl Truck Lines. “It’ll put the whole town under water.”

“I told them they might as well make the whole town up to Sixth or Seventh Street under water,” said Rolfes, adding there are several other proposed map “inconsistencies” in the proposed map that concern him — some downtown businesses are in the floodplain but adjacent ones with lower elevations are not.

“Unfortunately flooding is a common thing for us,” he said. “Almost every year we experience it…(DNR) hears every day, ‘That never floods.’ Sitting in a pickup for 65 hours watching levees and stuff, we pay attention…you learn a little bit and use that experience from year to year. We do have a lot of knowledge in this area.”

Rolfes has asked DNR officials if the drainage ditch is the problem, then can city officials abandon the gravel road between it and the golf course and build levees on both sides of the drainage ditch to alleviate the problem but he has not received an answer.

When asked if city officials would request funding to do that, Rolfes responded city officials would benefit from financial assistance but they would go ahead. “We’d just do it to get it done.”

“We have a lot going on in the industrial park and in the community, especially now,” he told the legislators. Especially in housing development which has boomed. “We’d like to keep it moving forward and every little bit we can do to help that.”

When Carlin asked if there was a flood waiver business owners could sign and would they be willing to, Security National Bank Marketing President Connie Blake explained that would cause financing problems — banks require loan recipients to have flood insurance if they are in the floodplain.

“This is going to have an extremely harsh outcome for the city — economically because this puts our whole entire industrial park in the floodplain — if (DNR) maintains that level, everything besides Heyl’s warehouse would be in the floodplain,” said Rolfes. “Being close to South Dakota…we’re losing a lot the way it already is.”

He noted in 2005 Akron lost a homegrown business, Masaba Mining Equipment, to Vermillion, S.D. That company had 30 full-time employees and today they have 170.

“We’re asking (DNR) to be reasonable,” said Rolfes, and when asked what’s reasonable, responded: city officials have no problem updating the dikes and have hired their engineer to do their own hydrologic study for solutions to decreasing flooding’s effects.

Flood insurance quotes the Wendts have received were between $2,000 and $7,000 annually for a 5,000 square feet building.

“South Dakota loves new business,” said Peoples Bank CEO Mike Hohenstein. “We can’t afford to lose (more). It’ll kill our town. All small towns struggle as it is. We are not different.”

When S.D. Highway 48 is closed, it’s “very hard on our community,” added Rolfes, noting businesses lose 30 to 40 percent of foot traffic. If the highway is closed again for seven months like it was this year, Akron will easily lose some businesses.

The citizens asked the legislators to help them resolve this with the DNR. Legislators requested business owners to email them the impacts the proposed maps would cause them and then set another meeting for 9:30 a.m., Friday, Feb. 7 at Akron City Hall.

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