Businesses vary on flooding concerns, preparation

by Gigi Wood

CORALVILLE – They’re keeping an eye on it.

Coralville businesses owners located along the Iowa River and Clear Creek vary on their levels of concern about high waters. And two years after the historic flood that deluged this city’s business district, few have a plan or knowledge of who to turn to for flooding information.

The city is up to its elbows in flood recovery projects, many of which are slated to be complete next year. In the meantime, business owners who were flooded, returned and recovered from the last flood are anxious about heavy rains this year.

One bright spot: homes along Edgewater Drive near the Coralville Marriott have been removed, eliminating a major residential flooding concern, so the city can focus on other areas of the river if flooding occurs.

“We have a lot of flood-related projects going on,” Kelly Hayworth, Coralville’s city administrator, stated in an e-mail. “The biggest advantage this year is that we don’t have the Edgewater homes to worry about so we can focus on other areas of the community, which is a big help.”

At the Coralville Reservoir, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has increased outflow from 8,000 cubic feet per second to 10,000. That level is expected to remain until at least July 21, said John Castle, operations manager for the Corps.

That level could change depending on rainfall in the coming days and weeks. The lake is expected to peak July 14, he said. For businesses and homes, knowing when to sandbag and evacuate buildings should come from city officials, Mr. Castle said.

“We’re not familiar with all the different places and elevations and things that are affected,” he said.

The Iowa Flood Center at the University of Iowa is not equipped to provide that information either. The year-old center is collecting data for mapping purposes that will likely be very beneficial for predicting flood levels in the future.

“It’s not like we’re an operations center distributing sandbags. We’re an academic center and have expertise in hydrology, in rivers, in flooding,” said Witold Krajewski, director of the center.

Property and business owners in Coralville, meanwhile, wait and some worry. Steve Pajunen, owner of Zephyr Printing & Design, 411 Second St. in Coralville, took a six-figure hit during 2008 when he lost many of his major copiers and other equipment in the flood.

Now he has a storage facility in Iowa City where he can take his equipment if needed.

“It’s a matter of when. To pull that trigger is a very big event and it’s not, for them to take my machines apart it’s free, but it’s the loss of revenue and what it does to our customers and their work and things like that. I don’t think I can recoup that from insurance,” he said.

While Coralville should be commended for its flood recovery work and planning, Mr. Pajunen said he wished some authority figure would act as the go-to person for high-water warnings.

“It would be nice if somebody from the government said, ‘We’re really concerned, it might happen.’ Even the probability, somebody raise their hand,” he said. “There really isn’t one central person that all of us look to or can turn to for an answer. It still reminds me of two years ago when I was calling friends at city public works and the police department and they were coming and saying, ‘You know here’s the best I can tell you.’”

Mr. Pajunen often takes trips to the Coralville Reservoir to check the water levels himself.

“I’ll take my kids out there, we’ll get an ice cream cone and look at it just for psychological reasons or what have you,” he said. “We’ve done that about a dozen times already this summer. It’s just my way of literally keeping an eye on things. It may be a little therapeutic, but it’s also fun for the kids to run around.”

He’s not the only one making the trip. Maja Hunt, co-owner of Every Bloomin’ Thing, 2 Rocky Shore Dr., Iowa City, also drives up to the reservoir.

“I was out there last night, and the water just doesn’t seem as high, and it doesn’t seem as stressful to me as it did two years ago,” she said. “So I think the fear of flooding again this year, I don’t think it was as great as it was two years ago.”

When the business recovered after the flood, it put as much equipment on wheels as possible for a quick evacuation and placed wiring and other infrastructure high in case it floods again. They have no other plans in place to deal with a flood, Ms. Hunt said.

“We haven’t discussed it,” she said. “I think we all try to block it out, but I drive by the river every day and go up to the (reservoir), and it just seems to me that it’s not as much of a threat as it was two years ago.”

Across the street at the Wig & Pen Pizza Pub, it’s also a wait-and-see situation.

“We’re just keeping an eye on it. There’s nothing much we can do. We’ll just play it by ear,” said Dick Querry, owner of the restaurant.

After the 2008 flood, Mr. Querry was ordered by the federal government to install a flood wall around his business.

“We’re protected up to 4 feet, so in 1993 we would not have been flooded,” he said. “In ’08, of course it was way up there, but all you can do is keep an eye on it and hope for the best. I think it’s going to be OK, but it just depends on what comes down the river in the next week.”

Dave Sondag, owner of Dave’s Barber Shop, 216 First Ave., was also flooded out in 2008. He said he has no plans for dealing with a potential flood if it happens.

“We haven’t talked about it or anything,” he said.

He said he will wait for word from authorities to know when to evacuate, if necessary.

“Last time we were told to get out. They told us they were turning the power off and said we had to get out,” he said.

Nearby, at Monica’s Italian Bistro, 303 Second St., owner Randy Larson said he isn’t concerned about flooding. The building flooded in 2008, when it was Slugger’s. He said he has flood insurance, which has alleviated some of the concern.

“The tragedy for those in the 500-year floodplain was not knowing they needed insurance. Now we know,” he stated in an e-mail. “For about $2,000 a year we’re safe, except for lost profit, but I don’t know anybody who’s making much of a profit in this economy anyway.”