BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – With flood stages gradually falling and waters receding back into the banks of the Mississippi, area officials are now assessing damage and beginning clean up.
At Tuesday’s regular Lee County Board of Supervisors meeting, Lee County Engineer Ben Hull said this may be the longest sustained flooding in recent history and may set state marks.
“I don’t know that we’ve ever had this level of flooding for this long of a time,” Hull said.
The National Weather Service still has river flood stages in Lee County above minor flood stages for the next eight days with a steady trend downward. It could be from 10 to 14 days before the rivers are back at flood stage.
Hull said the county is facing some damage along the Des Moines, Mississippi and Skunk rivers but isn’t sure where the county may turn for funding assistance.
He said FEMA funds are uncertain due to thresholds that need to be met and limits on work they will reimburse.
“We’ve been luckier than a lot of other counties and other entities have been, but we’ve had our share of issues,” he said.
FEMA divides their disaster periods in two sections March 12 through May 16, and then May 17 and continuing. Hull said for the current period, the county is declared a disaster area by the state, but not federally.
He said the county has about 40 locations that have been impacted in one way or another including barricading, culverts washing out, and half a dozen land slide areas.
“Some areas along the Des Moines river have been underwater for months. Thankfully it’s been mostly slow moving water so we’re dealing with cleanup and replacing rock, but it could be worse,” Hull said.
He said he’s currently sending a letter of interest to the USDA’s National Resources Conservation Service, which can help provide funding for environmental issues that crop up as a result of flooding.
Lee County Emergency Management Coordinator Steve Cirinna, said Gov. Kim Reynolds designated Lee County as a state disaster area at the end of May, which activates the state of Iowa’s Individual Assistance program. According to the state of Iowa’s Homeland Security website, residents have 45 days from the day of the disaster to file for the program.
The state pays up to $5,000 in reimbursements for damage caused by the disaster. If a Presidential Disaster Declaration is made, the state’s reimbursement stops and the federal program kicks in. No presidential declaration has been made for the second period as of Tuesday.
“That’s available to those that are at or below 200% of federal poverty guidelines ($41,560 annual income for a family of three). They can get up to $5,000 to help cover specific expenses, food, lodging, destroyed water heaters …that kind of thing. But there are very specific requirements,” Cirinna said Monday afternoon.
He said anyone wishing to apply for assistance due to damage should contact Community Action of Southeast Iowa. But that’s all that’s available to private residents and businesses.
“That’s pretty much it right now. The state has made application to FEMA for a presidential disaster declaration for damages for before May 16 at midnight. We haven’t heard back on that yet,” he said.
“We’re just waiting on word for public assistance. Unless something changes we haven’t had enough damage.”
City Manager David Varley said the city could be on the hook for more than $100,000 in supplies and labor in fighting the floods.
“We usually have a supply of sand bags, but we had to purchase more and then with the all the overtime we’re probably looking at something in the area of $100,000 spent dealing with the flood.”
Varley said he doesn’t expect to get any reimbursement from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
“I just don’t think we’re going to qualify. I think Steve Cirinna would have a damage figure, but we won’t be able to claim the marina building because we’ve received funding for that the last two times,” Varley said.
“That’s a lot of money to come up with.”
Lee County Conservation District Director Nathan Unsworth said flooding can be beneficial in some aspects of conservation, but damaging in others. He said he doesn’t foresee any long-term impact on conservation in this area.
“It can impact animals that nest and flood out ground nesting birds, but it depends on when it happens,” Unsworth said.
“It’s a natural occurrence, but its the intensity of it that determines the impact. Certain animals benefit from flooding and they are adaptive to flooding. Some trees could also be affected if they are under water for a long time, but I don’t know of any localized long-term effects on wildlife from the flooding.”
The one impact he said may be felt is the lillipads could be wiped out and that would be hard on duck populations
Michele Ross, the director of the Lee County Health Department said anyone working in flooded waters with open wounds should get with their health care provider and make sure tetanus is updated.
“The flood waters won’t cause tetanus, but if you have open wounds in the water, that’s when trouble can start,” she said.
“We’ve put some stuff out on social media and our website about that and people can get more information there.”
Ross also said bug populations, specifically mosquitoes and gnats, will be bigger this year because of all the standing water. She said the Iowa Department of Public Health is hosting a webinar tomorrow for public health officials, emergency management personnel and other related resources to look at the impact of flooding on mosquitoes.
“The impact will be pretty big around here with the water just now receding and all the residual standing water and muck,” Ross said. “So people should use good mosquite repellants with Deet, while they are out and about.”
‘We’ve also had a lot of calls about gnats and you’re probably going to see the same thing with them. We’ve always promoted not having standing water in your yards and even emptying bird baths daily to keep mosquitoes from multiplying as aggressively.”