The small town of Percival, Iowa, which had nearly dried out from historic mid-March flooding, has begun taking on water again.

And local officials say they have a clear cause: repairs by BNSF Railway to its rail bed.

After the railroad began repairing holes in the rail line that runs the length of the valley in Fremont County, water has begun backing up, covering roads, seeping into town and even closing off northbound access to Interstate 29 from Highway 2, local officials say.

Why? The rail bed is functioning as a dam, they say, preventing floodwater from draining down the valley.

Amy McBeth, spokeswoman for BNSF, said the railroad has surveyed the area and disagrees.

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“Based on our surveys, we believe the water surface elevation in Percival is not affected by the railroad,” she said.

Instead, roadways that run across the valley and obstructions downstream are among the reasons water isn’t draining away, she said.

She said BNSF has installed culverts in the rebuilt rail bed so water can drain through.

“As the region recovers from flooding and we restore our railroad, we work to minimize our impact on the communities of Iowa,” she said.

Mike Crecelius, emergency manager for Fremont County, and Pat Sheldon, chairman of the local levee district, both say the railroad’s work is to blame for the water that is filling the town.

They said they told BNSF well before the railroad started its repairs that its work would lead to flooding. After all, they said, the same thing happened with 2011’s historic flooding.

In some places in Percival, water is now 2 to 3 feet deep, Crecelius said.

Some basements now are nearly full of water, he added.

Both are worried about what will happen if the rainy week ahead generates the amount of runoff that’s likely.

Not only will the flooding worsen, they say, but the power of the water being redirected through town could cause more damage and wash out roads. Sheldon said he wouldn’t be surprised if BNSF’s rail bed sustained new damage.

Instead, the railroad needs to wait until the levee along the Missouri River is fixed and floodwater has stopped flowing into the valley.

“I understand they want to get up and going,” Sheldon said. “But everybody else around here is in the same boat. It’s not right, what they’re doing.”

Nancy Gaarder helps cover public safety and weather events as an editor on The World-Herald's breaking news desk. Follow her on Twitter @gaarder. Phone: 402-444-1102.

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