Should Davenport have a permanent flood wall? Most mayoral candidates say no

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DAVENPORT, Iowa — Davenport voters are less than two weeks away from narrowing the field of mayoral candidates down from six to two.

Tonight the candidates had another chance to win over their support. About 200 people packed into the second mayoral forum at St. Ambrose University.

The question on many people’s minds was whether or not the candidates support a permanent flood wall. This comes after a spring of historic flooding that left many downtown businesses closed for months and some for good.

Only one candidate gave a definite yes: Dean Weber.

Read what each candidate had to say in their full response below:

Mike Matson

“So this is a complicated question, has many parts and there’s many parts of the city. Many people talked about the downtown and I think that we need to protect our investment and keep River Drive open, but the parts I’m talking about is like the west end. I have, with many folks, there’s 12 pumps working down there when we have a flood. And they protect and worry about a flood at 13 feet, which most people don’t even think about. So the experience that goes on there, versus what we need to do in the downtown versus what we need to do in the west end or the east end takes many different pieces. 

“So we had a forensic analysis by the Corps done and they told us, the council, they’re investigation and determined what happened at the break at Pershing. That was a terrible tragedy and mistake and I’ll own it. We made a mistake. We didn’t build it enough. So we don’t do that again and the key to learning and doing what’s right is not making the same mistake twice. So I said to Ms. Gleason and I said to Ms. Spiegel and other council members have said the same thing and this comes in from working with everyone: Don’t make that mistake, build it two and one as a temporary protection, build it at River Drive and keep River Drive open.

“There are many parts to this and we need to understand and bring in professionals to do it, but we have an would continue to do that. 
Another thing, I attended the Carnegie Institute for flood review in New Orleans a few years ago after Katrina and they use us as the example of flood protection. Same with Cedar Rapids and other places, they come to us, use our HESCOs and use that as the example to protect. So we made a mistake at Pershing, but we do a pretty good job. We have an extensive flood plan. The key is to update every year. 

“And I’m not a fan of a flood wall because I don’t want to put taxpayers in debt to $207 million. We don’t have that in our CFP. We don’t have the budget for that. So I’m not a fan of the flood wall.”

 Steve Duffy 

“The main focus here is to protect our citizens and businesses of downtown Davenport, as well as all the people who live along the river. Our river runs east and west. That’s an attraction here. 

“The current mayor has a committee working right now on what they’re going to do with flood protection. We need to sit back and see what they come up with first. But number one, I don’t believe in a flood wall either. Rock Island, the Illinois side, they have flood walls and what’s that done is push the river towards us. And if we had a permanent flood wall, it would push the river downstream to Buffalo and those other communities. And what would happen to them? They’d be washed away. 

“We need to maintain our river front, have temporary flood barriers. I go along with what Dean [Weber] said. I like the panel theory. Once that’s built you can build it, put it together and take it apart when it’s over. But when somebody says ,’I don’t care about the citizens downtown. We need to protect our infrastructure,’  that’s wrong. We need to protect everybody. The downtown area is a hub of activity, with new housing, apartments, lofts along with all the businesses down there that are drawing more and more people downtown. That’s important, but we also need to look into the future and see what’s best for Davenport.” 

Dean Weber 

“[I’ve] been here for 17 years, worked for the city, so I’ve been down there hands on in every single one of these floods. Personally I think we should build a wall. I think it should be a panel wall. A panel wall. Like we have around the stadium. We had an island sitting out there. Completely dry when the rest of the downtown flooded and everything. 

“I want this made out of a combination of panels and permanent berms. On Credit Island, we could put a permanent berm around Credit Island and the road going into it. You’re not blocking any view. These panel walls, they can be put up, they can be added to and they can be taken down very quickly. It ain’t like the HESCOs where once they’re up there, you better hope the river don’t come up any higher. These panel walls, you can add onto all the time. When it comes to taking them down, there again, you can take them down very quickly. 

“And you’ve seen it before here in Davenport where we’ve taken a wall down and a week later we’re putting it right back up. Well, with the HESCOs and the other ways we used to do it that’s a lot of manpower, a lot of work, a lot of material. These panel walls all you got to do is pull the panels up and out them right back into place. 

“As far as the berms go, you know, berms are made out of dirt, sand, materials like that. Well every time we throw away those HESCOs, all that sand gets thrown away. It’s considered contaminated from the river. That could all be used to make these berms. The water treatment plan and compost, they want to protect those together. Well, compost already has a berm 3/4 of the way around it. It wouldn’t be nothing to sit there and add to that. And all these materials are basically kind of free. You see construction going on, you see trucks hauling dirt away all the time. Ask them for it. They’ll give it to you. 

“It would be cost efficient, especially the berm part would be completely cost efficient. The other things would cost you some money, but they will last. They were made by the Corps of Engineers. They are made out of aluminum and they are made to last and withstand the pressures of the river.” 

Elizabeth VanCamp

I am not in favor of a flood wall. I’ll just be up front with that. If you look at what scientists and engineers are telling us, actually what they’ve been telling us since 1852, do not build flood walls on the Mississippi because it causes the waters to rise higher and flow faster. So we’ve known this for decades just like we’ve known climate change was going to get worse for decades and now we’re seeing that. We’re seeing water levels rise all over the world and that impacts us here in the Quad Cities. It impacts every River City on the Mississippi. 

“So no, I’m not going to take the advice that scientists and engineers are telling us and just say, ‘What do they know?’ I’m going to say let’s listen to them and let’s look for a more long term solution. You know, someone the other day just asked me, ‘Well, what if it protected us for five to 10 years and then it failed?’ Because that’s also something that engineers tells us, that it’s not if a flood wall will fail it’s when. My answer is I don’t want me or my daughter’s generation to have to pick up those pieces. I would rather now come up with a very long term plan that will protect our community so we’re not revisiting this when flood waters do continue to get worse in the future. 

“So I’m urging us to look at a floodplain here that we can create like coastal cities are having to do because of rising sea waters and see if that works for our community. It’s a sustainable and long term solution that gives the water a place to go, where it can sit during flooding time and it doesn’t disrupt our city and then it can slowly recede back into the river. To me at this time, that’s what make the most sense to me. So again, I am not for a flood wall because of the damage it could cause our community in the future and I’d like us to focus more on a long term solution.”

Rita Rawson

“The flood of ’19. I was actually personally impacted. I have an office downtown that I didn’t see for three months so that was loads of fun.

“When you ask about a flood wall, I think a flood wall in general, I don’t want to do a knee-jerk reaction to a solution that I don’t think is probably the actual solution that we need. I think that the recommendations that the Corps of Engineers provided to us make sense, at least in the short term. I think in the long term we absolutely need to rethink our entire flood plan probably for a crest that’s much higher than what we’re looking at now. Probably 28 feet. Just simply because weather patterns are changing. I think everyone in the room would agree with that. they’re changing everywhere and not just here in Iowa. Look at Texas this week.

“So given that I do think that we need to have some professional representation, a company to come in and actually look at what we have geographically along our 9 miles of riverfront because different areas may require or need or call for something different as far as flood protection. 

“We most definitely need to have an updated flood plan, but what exactly that will entail, I don’t know. I think there are other cities, coastal cities, I think there’s places around the world that have done flood planning that we should look at what they’ve done. See what we can take from that and implement here, along with the recommendations from a professional engineering firm. But I think that’s the level of advice we need to look for for a long term plan. 

“In addition to that, I think not only the city, but all the businesses, we should work together to make sure that we’re protecting the buildings downtown and the Village of East Davenport, as well as Credit Island and the neighborhoods that are on the west end. So it would be good to have some forums or additional meetings with people just to bring them up to speed on here’s some things you can do to protect your property in addition to what the city is doing. Just to give you that extra layer of security. I think those are some things we can also implement.”

Dan Portes

“Obviously we were devastated. We had River Drive closed for three months, many businesses were closed, we lost tax revenue. The truth of the matter is for me, I’m not an engineer, but this is how I would handle it if I were mayor. I would get the council together and the first thing I would do is ask them to decide what’s the geography that you want to protect. And once they decide what you want you to protect, I would bring in engineers and experts from all over the country and get a bunch of alternatives and options for us with costs and cost-benefits to us. 

You ask about a wall, I don’t know if that’s the best solution. I’m not an engineer. What I do know is that the outcome that I’m looking for personally … is to convince the rest of the councilmen that we should protect the entire self-sustaining municipal district, which is just about the entire downtown. So that’s a big call for us to be able to do, but when you do that you realize that that water’s going to go someplace else. So I don’t want the East Village to flood because we’re just protecting the downtown or areas in between either east or west of the downtown. 

“These are not simple solutions and it comes with a cost for each of the options that we would have out there and I have not come to a conclusion for how best to answer it because I am not an engineer. But there are people out there like in Dubuque and Clinton and other places in the country that could help us make a good decision.”

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