WAVERLY | In what is likely the largest single capital project in the city's history, work is set to begin on a Dry Run Creek flood mitigation project.
The $13 million project will move hundreds of buildings out of the 100-year flood plain throughout the city of Waverly.
More than 350 homes and businesses formerly in the 100-year flood plain of the Dry Run Creek will no longer be in the zone. Of those, 158 are considered contributing structures within the three historic districts in Waverly. Another 85 buildings are designated as key structures in those historic districts.
“Dry Run Creek goes through the oldest, most historic part of Waverly,” said Waverly City Engineer Mike Cherry.
While about 2 1/2 blocks of the project feature walls and a concrete channel because structures abut the waterway, most of the rest of the plan involves restoration of the natural waterway.
Along most of the creek, the approach will have a wide slope toward the waterway that will be planted with native grasses. Where space is limited, the grade will be steeper. Where the creek crosses roadways, larger box culverts are being installed.
"Waverly's project is unique in that we have the ability to remap FEMA's 100-year flood plain, not with walls and levees," Cherry said.
He didn’t have to go far to get design and vegetation ideas.
“This is Iowa,” he said. “So you only need to look to the farm fields that have grass waterways.”
The project will create a greenbelt through the city and have a lasting impact on the community, leaders said.
“This is probably the largest single project we have undertaken in the city’s history,” said Phil Jones, Waverly city administrator.
Total cost of the Dry Run Creek waterway restoration, one portion of the overall project, is more than $9.5 million.
That work is being funded by city general obligation bonds backed by property tax revenue and state sales tax increment financing -- an upfront payment from the state of future city sales tax revenue.
For part of the project that runs through downtown, urban renewal tax increment financing is paying for the project.
The first phase of the project -- an inflatable dam on the Cedar River completed in 2011 -- has already had an effect on Waverly residents. Most of the nearly $4.5 million portion of that project was paid for with federal funds.
Karen Lehmann and her husband received reimbursement in the past from their insurance company after flooding damaged their home. She's hopeful the changes will give affected homeowners some peace of mind.
“I knew these changes were occurring,” Lehmann said. “I just hadn’t looked into it.”
Lehmann moved into the home in 1996 despite it being listed in the 100-year flood plain.
“It’s a beautiful home,” Lehmann said. “We loved the woodwork.”
In 1999, the Cedar River surrounded the home like a moat. In 2008, water filled the home’s basement. As the Dry Run Creek portion of the project begins, Lehmann said, she is excited for residents in the creek’s current flood plain.
“I feel very good for them that this will allow them some relief,” she said.
The project is broad in size and scope, but not nearly as ambitious as when the idea was first conceived.
Plans to address the Dry Run Creek channel and flood plain go back more than 30 years. Following flooding in 1999, the city commissioned a study of the Dry Run Creek waterway and ways flooding risks could be reduced. Planning beyond the study wasn't feasible because several dozen structures were too close to the waterway.
“A century of development resulted in encroachment and building in the natural waterway,” Cherry said.
Record flooding in 2008 severely damaged many of the structures in the Dry Run Creek waterway. Most were later bought out by the federal government.
“We went from having several dozen homes in the waterway to only a handful of homes after 2008,” Cherry said.
The remaining nine buildings in the Dry Run Creek waterway and other easements were bought by the city -- a $1.27 million portion of the total cost of the project.
Work is set to begin immediately. Contractors will start the project on the south end of the creek near Fourth Street Southwest. The section up to Bremer Avenue will be completed this year. Another section, from First Street Southwest to Fourth Street Southwest also is expected to be completed this year.
Work will require closing Fourth Street Southwest, but that won’t happen until after the Gentlemen of the Road music festival June 19-20 and the Bremer County Fair, July 26-Aug. 1, Jones said. Traffic will be routed to Second Avenue
The final phase, from Bremer Avenue to Seventh Street Northwest, will be completed in 2016. That phase will likely require lane closures on that thoroughfare, Jones said.
At the end of the inconvenience, the city’s flood map will be different. Cherry said it will remove an extra step and expense for home buyers and building owners who want to upgrade historic structures. Some public assistance incentives for improvements such as lead paint abatement weren’t available for buildings located in a 100-year flood zone, he said.
The city also will have an added greenbelt through its center, Jones said. Maintenance and inspection access paths along the creek will be available for public use.
“It’s going to affect the quality in more than one way,” Jones said.