Hamburg, Iowa, has more time and may need less money to save a backup levee that in 2011 kept floodwaters out of the south part of town.
The Army Corps of Engineers said the roughly 2-mile-long and 19-feet-high inner levee that hugs the west side of this city of 1,200 can remain as-is until the last repairs are made to another federal levee, the riverside one.
That levee, about 4 miles from town, broke during last year's Missouri River flooding, sending floodwaters to the backup levee.
Much of the backup levee already existed at about 11 feet in height when flooding began. But volunteers and the corps piled dirt on top, raising the levee to about 19 feet.
The riverside levee should be repaired sometime between Dec. 1 and March 1, said Kim Thomas, chief of emergency management with the Omaha District of the Corps of Engineers.
Hamburg Mayor Cathy Crain previously said her southwest Iowa town had until September to raise $4.6 million to keep the backup levee near its current height, but last week she learned that she has a bit more time.
To raise the dough fast — a daunting task for a town with an annual budget of $1.3 million — Hamburg will soon kick off an unusual fundraising drive.
The centerpiece of that drive is a “flash mob” video of townspeople dancing to the Ike and Tina Turner version of “Proud Mary” on Main Street, with lyrics tailored to Hamburg. It should be online in the next few weeks.
Officials hope the video will go viral, prompting donations. Crain estimates about 250 people participated when the video was recorded June 25.
U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin's office is working to make sure Hamburg and its donors don't have to shoulder the burden alone.
“While no one can guarantee that the City of Hamburg may not have to make levee modifications, possibly at significant cost, it is premature to think that the city is on the hook for nearly $5 million,” said Harkin's chief spokeswoman, Kate Cyrul Frischmann, in a statement. “If modifications do have to be made, a portion of the levee modification cost is likely eligible for partial FEMA reimbursement.”
To Crain, that is good news and welcome help. But she and the town will go on with the video as planned, because footing even a fraction of that bill would challenge Hamburg.
“We're not taking an ‘if' to the bank,” she said on Monday. “We have got to know. We cannot make a responsible financial decision about keeping that levee ... unless we know our finances.”
If Hamburg gets enough help that it no longer needs the donations, they'll cut the campaign short and return them, Crain said.
“We want our businesses and our people to stay here. We want to protect them, and we have to find the funding.”
To keep the levee taller than it was before the flood, a number of federal requirements must be met, including drill borings and tests for density, stability and compaction. Also, some must be lopped off, Crain has said.
The corps says those requirements are necessary to ensure the levee will work properly.
“There's always a risk living behind the levees. We have processes to help mitigate that risk,” Thomas said. “This is one of those processes we have to do as a federal levee system.”
The State of Iowa has kicked in $1 million to help, which got the total below $5 million.
If Hamburg falls short, the levee is likely to be reduced to its pre-flood height.
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