• Click here to watch a 2012 video of Hamburg residents practicing their dance moves to raise money to try to save the levee.
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HAMBURG, Iowa — A levee hastily built up to save the town of Hamburg from the flood of 2011 is expected to soon be partially torn down.
Locals had fought to save the levee — even posting an online video of townspeople dancing — but were unable to raise the more than $5.5 million needed to bring it within federal regulations.
The city will take the levee down to its pre-flood height of 11 feet. It is now 19 feet tall.
City officials came to that conclusion Tuesday during a meeting with officials of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Iowa Homeland Security and Emergency Management.
An emergency City Council meeting will be held in the next few days to formally vote on the matter, said Hamburg Mayor Cathy Crain.
The levee stretches for nearly two miles along the west side of Hamburg and was built in the late 1990s on a drainage ditch.
In June 2011, volunteers and the corps piled dirt on top, raising it eight feet, amid concerns about a Missouri River levee.
That Missouri levee ended up failing in spots, and waters pushed against the modified levee for 120 days, much of that time only a few feet from overtopping.
Fremont County officials have estimated that the southern half of Hamburg would have flooded if not for the higher levee.
Hamburg wanted to keep the levee at its new height. But a number of federal requirements came into play because the levee was designed to protect the town from ditch water, not a swollen Missouri River.
Those requirements included tests for stability and dirt compaction and the installation of new metal closure gates.
Hamburg's annual budget is about $1.2 million — far less than the $5.5 million needed — so in the summer of 2012, the city created an online video. Hundreds of residents danced to the Ike and Tina Turner version of “Proud Mary” on Main Street, with lyrics tailored to Hamburg.
Despite coverage by national and local media, the city raised only about $52,000. Crane said the money will be used to pay for other flood-fighting expenses, which could include returning the levee's dirt to farmers and fixing road damage related to the flood, such as streets damaged by heavy equipment.
“It can only go for flood efforts, that's the legal requirement,” she said.
In Tuesday's meeting, corps officials outlined several possibilities for the city. But Hamburg officials said the only affordable options involved reducing the levee to its original height.
“We've done a lot of work to try to keep it, but financially, (lowering it) is the only option we have,” said Alan Dovel, Hamburg's public works director.
Many in Hamburg consider it ludicrous that the city would be required to pay millions to inspect and improve a levee that protected their city during the historic 2011 floods.
“It doesn't make any sense to anybody,” Dovel said. “They feel that common sense has been thrown out the window. They just don't understand it.”
But the corps has said that if the levee is going to protect Hamburg from the Missouri over the long term, the inspections and improvements were needed.
“That levee was put up temporarily, so we essentially just threw material on there,” Kim Thomas, the chief of emergency management for the corps in Omaha, said in an earlier interview.
The city wants to reduce the levee by July 1 and return the 198,000 cubic yards of dirt to nearby farmers. That will allow those farmers to put a crop on land that has sat fallow since 2011. The city has rented that land since 2011, paying the farmers $22,500 in total.
Reducing the levee will cost more than $1 million. While Hamburg will pay the bill, the Federal Emergency Management Agency will reimburse the city 75 percent of the cost. The State of Iowa will kick in another 10 percent.
Meanwhile, repairs are nearing completion on the Missouri River levee that protects Fremont County.
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