Lawmakers Say State Could Pay for Flooded Homes

April 17, 2013

Some lawmakers say a bill recently passed by the Legislature could leave taxpayers vulnerable if future flooding damages homes surrounding a lake in eastern Iowa.

The measure exempts Lake Delhi along the Maquoketa River from a requirement that owners of a soon-to-be-rebuilt dam buy easements for any property that could flood if water overtops the dam, the Des Moines Register reported.

The exempted requirement applies to all of the other 3,500 dams operating with permits in the state.

Iowa Department of Natural Resources Director Chuck Gipp and some lawmakers said it’s a liability issue, since lakefront owners could sue the state if their homes are damaged.

“Those people could sue the state based on the state’s waters going on their property without permission,” Gipp said.

Rep. Charles Isenhart, D-Dubuque, voted against the legislation.

“The state should not be on the hook,” he said. “If the likelihood of flooding beyond levels provided for by the easements is minimal, then it should not be much of a risk for the Lake Delhi recreation district to indemnify the state from liability.”

A 2010 storm caused the river to overtop the dam and destroy it. The breach shrank the 450-acre lake back within Maquoketa’s banks, and lakefront homes now sit 100 yards from the river.

Steve Leonard, president of Lake Delhi Combined Water Quality & Recreational Facility District, said the spillway’s capacity will more than double, so homes will face less flood risk. And more homeowners could qualify for flood insurance.

“The economic impact of the dam is huge,” Leonard said. “Not having this lake costs the state hundreds of thousands of dollars, maybe millions.”

The newspaper reported that Tim Albrecht, Gov. Terry Branstad’s spokesman, said the governor hasn’t decided if he will sign the bill.

Some have criticized $5 million funding from DNR that will restore the dam because they argue there’s limited public access. Construction on the dam, which could start this summer, could total as much as $20 million.

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