Improvements to the Council Bluffs, Iowa, levee system continue step-by-step as city officials keep hoping it’s fast enough to beat federal government action that could cost homeowners a boatload of cash in flood insurance.
This week, the city council approved the plans and specifications on the fifth project in the recertification of the city’s levee system covering more than 28 miles. This work is necessary to meet U.S. Corps of Engineers standards in flood protection and avoid the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, from redrawing the city map as a flood zone.
But, the FEMA clock is ticking.
While not set in stone, 2023 might be the year FEMA begins its assessment of flood protection in Council Bluffs, especially in the low-level west end that could be vulnerable to flooding by the Missouri River, plus Indian and Mosquito creeks.
“We’re in a race now to get the levees recertified before FEMA redraws its flood assessment maps, maps associated with the Flood Insurance Program,” said Mayor Matt Walsh. “We think the remapping will take place in 2023 so we need to get it certified so that new areas aren’t added to the maps causing homeowners to pay flood insurance.
“This is 2016 now, so we got another seven years. FEMA hasn’t given us a definitive date, but I assume it is in 2023.”
The Daily Nonpareil reports the council’s action Monday night gave the Council Bluffs Public Works Department the go-ahead to seek bids on modifications to an existing relief well system. It is project No. 5 of 10 in the overall levee improvement effort, said City Engineer Matt Cox.
“We’ve completed two, and three more will soon start construction,” he said.
Five more projects are in the design phase, he added.
This project, focusing on relief wells along the Missouri River north of the Interstate 480 bridge, will address seepage deficiencies along the river levee.
“We’re focusing on the river first, but we’ll do the creeks later,” Cox said.
The budget for this project is $960,000 and is part of the city’s fiscal year 2016 capital improvement program that includes nearly $1.7 million from the Iowa Flood Mitigation Program and $3.3 million from local sales tax funds programmed for levee improvements. Bids for this work will be let on Jan. 10, 2017 with the project being awarded on Jan. 23.
Walsh believes that if this recertification effort isn’t entirely done by 2023, FEMA might be flexible in allowing more time. What’s more, Iowa’s Congressional members have indicated their willingness to help if necessary, he added.
“I’m confident we’ll be close to completion when they (FEMA) start mapping it,” Walsh said.
Nevertheless, the possibility of higher flood insurance rates for a good portion of the west end is still there.
Local insurance agent Rick Guill estimated a hike in flood insurance rates could cost homeowners an extra $1,200 to $2,000 a year.
For many, that could be a “deal breaker” in seeking a home loan, Guill said.
“And, that would impact the value of their home,” he added. “It’s important to get the levees fixed.”
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