by Dodie Hook
After touring flood damage in Rock Rapids, Rock Valley, and Hawarden, U.S. Congressman Steve King (R-IA) and Iowa State Senator Bill Anderson (R Senate District 3) stopped in Akron to discuss flood issues with city officials. City officials present included City Administrator Gary Horton, Mayor Harold Higman, and Councilperson Bob Frerichs.
“I’ve been trapped in my locked in schedule on the east side of the country so this was really my first window to slip up here and see,” Congressman King said.
“I’ve been through a lot of floods. I do have a sense of what happens – water comes up and it is a mess. I would take a fire or tornado, aside from human danger, because you can start cleaning up as soon as the fire is put out or wind stops blowing. This is hard to draw plans because of resources out there you can’t identify them. You don’t know what and whether FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) is going to be there, if SBA (Small Business Administration) is stepping in or what state might do,” King said. “Some of them have lost everything they have and some not in a position to ever get rebuilt or build equity back in lives again. This is the short version of what I have seen in the past and what I have seen this morning.”
Mayor Harold Higman called the flood an anomaly event. “We’ve had dikes and rebutment in place to take about anything that has been thrown at us in the past,” Mayor Higman said.
The mayor and City Administrator Gary Horton said there are three things the city really needs to do:
1. Need a flood gate at the end of Reed Street
Presently, storm water goes into the river and backs up through the storm sewer.
“With that event being so high, we had no way of controlling it. Prior events we were okay with that, but this time it was getting ahead of us,” Higman said.
Administrator Horton said that if we would have had a heavy rain event downtown, the water could not have gotten away and would have flooded buildings downtown.
“So, it’s not a case of if it’s going to happen, but when it’s going to happen, Horton said. “That’s where we want to get some funding through a hazard mitigation plan or whatever to basically get some gates in place on those storm sewers.”
Horton also reported the city would like to get some pumps in place on this side of the levee so the city can pump over the levee when something like this happens again or if a heavy rain is received.
2. Need to raise lift station.
“We need to get our lift station moved out of that area because that’s our main sewer lift station. If we would have had that flooded, we would have had that backing up into the businesses downtown,” Horton said. Basements in town would have also been affected.
3. Need to raise the dikes.
“Don’t know what we’ll run in to when we bump the Corps on this. Don’t know what their feeling is on raising the dikes anymore,” Higman said “But it’s a little different than protecting maybe a piece of agricultural ground. Here you have businesses and residences. You have a nucleus and conglomerate of people all together. Their lives depend on it. We do need to raise them some.”
Horton said he was waiting for a call from the Corps. after the meeting. In 2007 the Corps did a study of dikes and thought Akron was pretty well protected. “It seems like our events are getting higher and higher. We need to do something. We were close to having the water come over the dike at the end of our business district and flood the whole downtown,” Horton said.
Mayor Higman asked the two elected officials if it will be a while before any determinations are made in terms of money release or declarations made. King responded, “I don’t know whether I can say I’m particularly optimistic on what’s going to happen.”
Senator Anderson said he had reports that with this incident, which includes all the communities, there were 109 homes, in relation to individual assistance, that were deemed destroyed or major destroyed. FEMA needs 582 homes to get actual individual assistance triggered.
Akron has five homes affected.
“My understanding is the State Department of Homeland Security, because 109 is so far below 582, they were going to forego the application for individual assistance and go straight to the SBA loan program,” Anderson said.
SBA is getting another tally on how many homes and businesses were impacted according to Anderson. SBA has to have 25 homes or businesses or a combination to trigger the SBA loan program. Anderson said the turn around on an SBA loan is two weeks versus several months for the individual assistance grant through FEMA.
“We’re looking in to applying for a waiver for this and we’ll keep you informed,” King said.
Mayor Higman asked if there is money available just to get residents out of the flood district and help them move out.
Anderson told the mayor that there is a long process to do that. He said Cherokee did that after the floods of 1993 and that was FEMA money.
“We need a declaration before FEMA reacts to that. If we get it,” King said.
So now it’s a waiting game to see if this area is declared a disaster area or not. The Governor of Iowa has declared this a disaster area but now it has to go to the federal level and be declared before anything gets done.