Iowa City Flood Cleanup Complicated for Condominium
Complicated legal arrangements have left residents of Iowa City's Idyllwild neighborhood with plenty of flood buyout questions.
Residents are also questioning flood management, in particular a temporary coffer dam on the University of Iowa campus that raised flood waters above 1993 levels.
The city and the Idyllwild residents are on the same page: “Council's instructions are to pursue a full buyout of these properties,” said Iowa City manager Michael Lombardo. But the devil is in the details.
The Idyllwild development, just across the Iowa River from lower City Park, consists of 23 four unit structures. Residents own their units “ from the paint in,” said resident Martha Monick at a Tuesday night meeting. The grounds are owned by a 92 member homeowners association, and each condominium owner is assessed 1/92 of the maintenance. “You can't take apart a 92 member association,” said Monick.
The homeowners association has voted in favor of the buyout, and attorneys argue that the vote is binding and no one owner would be able to refuse to sell. But FEMA coordinating officer Bill Vogel said that a buyout would require a voluntary request from each of the 92 owners, a pronouncement that edged the anxiety level in the room up a notch.
The flood plain map also complicates matters. Some of the individual units are in the 100 year flood plain, some are in the 500 year plain, and some straddle the line. “I think, frankly, that the flood plain maps are incorrect,” said Idyllwild resident Charlie Eastham. He said he had suffered a $150,000 loss on a home he purchased for $180,000 four years ago, and without assistance he may face bankruptcy.
John Wagemann, stare hazard mitigation officer, said an entire complex may be eligible for a buyout, even if some individual units would not qualify. “If we spend a dollar, we have to prove it will save more by avoided damages,” he said.
Ultimately, the decision is local. “There is no 'FEMA buyout' program,” said Wagemann. “The buyout program is really the city of Iowa City's program. FEMA provides some of the money, but it is your city's.”
But FEMA may not provide enough money to buy out all of the damaged properties. “We need to look at the state as a whole,” said Wagemann. “Based on available funding, we have to make some decisions.”
City officials are looking at other streams of money, including Community Development Block Grants (CDBG). “Do we recolor money as CDBG money? If we do that it has less strings attached,” said David Miller, state Homeland Security administrator. “That's one of the things we're struggling with now.”
Wagemann said the entire buyout process could take nine months to a year. Residents, in the meantime, are frustrated.
A particular point of contention was a temporary coffer dam on the University of Iowa campus, which raised flood levels upstream as much as a foot and a half. The 50 or so people at the meeting were shocked when Bill Cappuccio of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources said his department had not been aware of the dam until last week. He said normally, such a structure would have been removed.
“We at Idyllwild we received no notification, but the coffer dam put us in a different flood plain because of mitigating circumstances,” said resident Mary Wallace, asking who should have been responsible for notifying residents.
Even as they clean up and consider their next steps, Idyllwild residents want to prevent future flooding. “Build a levee on Normandy. Raise the spillway. Use the Coralville reservoir for what it was intended for – flood control,” said one resident to applause. “People can recreate elsewhere. Please be proactive.”