Radio Iowa: Hamburg levee fight sparks Ernst and Axne bills seeking Corps changes
January 2, 2020
O. Kay Henderson
A bipartisan group of lawmakers who represent Iowa and Nebraska are joining to sponsor legislation that would help communities like Hamburg that are fighting federal rules about making temporary levees permanent.
Iowa Congresswoman Cindy Axne of West Des Moines, a Democrat, said additions to a levee that had saved Hamburg from 2011 flooding had to be removed because of current Army Corps of Engineers rules.
“A bureaucratic piece of red tape didn’t allow the residents in a community up that would have kept them out of harm’s way, we believe, in this recent flooding incident,” Axne said during a Radio Iowa interview.
Congressman Don Bacon of Omaha, a Republican, represents a district on the Nebraska side of the Missouri River and he’s co-sponsoring the bill in the U.S. House with Axne. The legislation sets up a new regulatory pathway for temporary flood control structures to be made permanent.
“It’s with the idea in mind that if we already have a levee in place that was put in there temporarily, that served a purpose, and that if we are able to make some considerations to use that levee and not tear it down, then this bill will help us address that,” Axne said.
Iowa Republican Joni Ernst has filed a similar bill in the U.S. Senate.
“There’s a various coalition of those of us up and down the river that want to see things changed,” Ernst told Radio Iowa, “so we will keep pushing on those issues.”
In 2011, the Army Corps raised the levee protecting Hamburg by eight feet, but the Corps’ current rules required that extra height to be removed because the community couldn’t come up with the money to make the addition permanent. The legislation Ernst and Axne are sponsoring would direct the Corps to consider the economic impact of removing temporary flood control structures. It also calls for waiving rules that require local governments to come up with matching funds for levees if the community has fewer than 10,000 residents.
Axne said the federal government has spent tax dollars responding to this past year’s Missouri River flooding that might have been saved if the height of the Hamburg levee hadn’t been reduced. Last spring during a senate hearing, Ernst quizzed Army Corps officials about their management of flood control structures along the Missouri River corridor.