Members of a newly minted task force that’s been assigned to analyze Davenport’s flood plan met publicly for the first time on Tuesday afternoon, offering varying views about what the city should plan to protect as Mississippi River rises become a more frequent problem.
The 22-member group, established by Mayor Frank Klipsch, spent much of its first meeting hearing the basics of the city’s existing city’s flood plan. Much of that plan, the exact details of which have been shielded from public view, focuses on protecting major public assets and infrastructure, including the regional water pollution control facility, the Centennial and Arsenal bridges and several major downtown Davenport thoroughfares.
The big question Tuesday centered on which geographical areas and infrastructure assets task force members think should be prioritized whenever major flooding occurs. After a briefing led by city staffers, task force members huddled together in smaller groups to chat.
Suggestions of priorities from those groups included protecting River Drive, keeping traffic moving between the inter-state bridges and ensuring the water pollution control plant remains operational.
Others thought there should be no prioritization whatsoever when it comes to the city’s long-term plan. Paul Rumler, the head of the Quad Cities Chamber of Commerce, said his small group concluded that all nine miles of the city’s riverfront should be protected equally.
“Long term, we can’t pick between any of them,” Rumler said. “We believe it all should be protected equally in the long term plan to include public infrastructure, residential, business, historical assets. All of those in the long-term plan should be protected equally along the nine miles.”
After the meeting, Klipsch said he viewed the remarks from many of the group members as a validation of the city’s existing plan. He noted that many of the task force members had repeated the ideas handed to them by the city.
“Basically the city flood plan and the priorities that we have are the ones that everybody recognizes we should do,” Klipsch said.
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Klipsch added that Tuesday’s meeting was the first of many that will cover other areas such as financing, alternative flood mitigation tactics and the anticipated river levels the city should plan for.
While other Mississippi River communities — including Rock Island, Moline and Bettendorf — have built permanent floodwalls to head off river rises, Davenport has not. Each year when snowmelt from the north and heavy spring rains cause Mississippi River levels to rise, the city erects a temporary flood barrier made of movable containers filled with sand to keep the waters at bay.
Proponents of the city’s flood-fighting methods — the mayor often refers to the effort as a frequent “embrace” of the Mississippi — point to its relatively low immediate cost, the preservation of the Davenport’s iconic river views and the wider environmental benefits of having fewer permanent levees on the river. Critics, meanwhile, have begun to question whether the city is doing enough to protect homes and businesses that exist in the floodplain.
The task force, first announced months ago, comes after Davenport’s biggest flooding disaster in recent memory. On April 30, the city’s temporary floodwall failed after it had been holding back the Mississippi River for weeks, sending several feet of water into the city’s blossoming business district.
During the Flood of 2019, costs for the city’s public works department have ballooned, a county-wide state of emergency was declared and federal funding has been approved to lighten the cost burdens. But many businesses owners have only begun to bounce back, and others have said they will not recover.
Meanwhile, Davenport’s lack of flood protection has also led to other major infrastructure issues.
In March, major freight company Canadian Pacific Railway decided to raise its railroad tracks that span the city’s riverfront — by several feet in some places — to keep train traffic moving through the Midwest. That move has left many of the city’s railroad and street intersections impassable, prompting rebukes from city officials and area groups focused on riverfront development.
Concerns about the raised tracks have also centered around long term plans for making the riverfront a bustling district complete with parks, shops and event spaces. Davenport administrators, area board members and elected officials have since been in negotiation with the railroad with the goal of finding common ground to restore the railroad crossings in a way that makes those long-term plans possible.