Thomas Geyer

During the flood of 2001 that almost rivaled the Great Flood of '93, Joseph Allbaugh, head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, remarked that cities such as Davenport that do not protect itself from flooding should not expect federal aid to bail them out time and again.

Those comments again raised to a high pitch the debate of building a floodwall along Davenport's riverfront, and raised the ire of then-Mayor Phil Yerington.

And after all the national attention was gone, it was determined that a floodwall would have done nothing to benefit Davenport, Yerington said Friday when asked to think back on the flood of 2001.

"A floodwall here won't address things," he said. "We're dealing with water that seeps into and backs up in the sewers. So we could build a floodwall 100 feet high and there will still be damage from water."

Yerington said he did not know all of that at the time he and Allbaugh were arguing before the nation. Had the millions of dollars been spent to build the floodwall given the little protection the city would have gotten out of it, "the people would have been screaming," he said. "It would have been money ill-spent."

Additionally, a floodwall here would have meant disaster for Davenport's neighbors, he said.

"It made more sense to look at ecological solutions to the problems," he said. "You have to look at how the river runs.

"I didn't want to be the mayor that contributed more problems on the river," he said. "Let Mother Nature take her course and we'll all be better off."

The only floodwall worth the money that is being pursued is one that will protect the Iowa American Water Co., said Perry Hubert, project manager for the Davenport plan.

Overall cost is estimated at $3.5 million, which includes all the studies and construction. Of course, the cost of the wall could go higher if any unforeseen environmental issues arise. Davenport's share of the expense is from 25 percent to 50 percent.

After studying the issue again when the water from the 2001 flood receded, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers also said that building a floodwall for Davenport would be a huge waste of money.

"We just cannot justify a floodwall along the whole area," Hubert said. "We were able to justify it back in the '80s when the area was economically depressed, there were businesses along the river and it could be used to put people back to work. But that is not the case now."

In the past 20 years, things have changed dramatically, he said.

Many of the businesses that once were on the riverfront have been relocated, he said. Any new structures that have been built are constructed according to FEMA specifications and to the 100-year flood elevation. Additionally, the city is doing a good job of floodplain management, and buying out low-lying properties.

"There are less structures that would be damaged in the event of a flood," Hubert said. "When more damage is prevented, the fewer benefits a flood wall generates."

The reason for the floodwall at the water company, he added, is because of the astronomical cost of supplying water to the area in case Iowa American cannot supply it. "That's where the costs add up," he said.

Construction is tentatively scheduled to begin in 2005, provided all funding is in place, he said.

Thomas Geyer can be contacted at (563) 383-2328 or