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Council wants park back

City decides to dip into park fund for flash flood repairs
Randall Park and its playground structure took a pretty big hit from the flash flooding Aug. 11-12. The Solon City Council has agreed to make needed repairs to put the park back in public use. (photo by Doug Lindner)

SOLON– After a spring flood in 2013, Randall Park sat idle and unused for most of the year as the city worked with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to determine the park’s fate.
Record water levels engulfed the park again Aug. 11-12, but this time the city isn’t waiting to take action.
At a regular council meeting Aug. 17, council members voted to utilize a park fund to rehabilitate the park as soon as possible.
The decision was made after a discussion of the damage caused by the torrential downpour, which almost caused Mill Creek to top Highway 382 and came within an inch of reaching the control room for the city’s wastewater treatment plant.
Public Works Director Scott Kleppe provided the council members and Mayor Steve Stange with a recap of the aftermath early in the meeting.
No real damage was sustained at the wastewater treatment plant, he reported.
Everything performed as it should, he said, although the city did issue water restrictions due to the heavy flow caused by infiltration and a power outage.
“The pumps were running 100 percent– everything was running at 100 percent,” he said.
There was damage to some small equipment stored in a building that experienced about 4 feet of flooding, he said, and public works staff will be trying to take some time in the coming weeks to clean and make repairs.
About 80 feet of fence at the plant was downed by the floodwater, he said.
“Randall Park, as everybody knows, took a huge hit,” he continued. “Water was up over the walking bridge to the sidewalk going out to Old Mill Creek, so it was within a foot of going over (Highway) 382, which is absolutely the highest level. I’d never thought that would probably be possible, but obviously it is.”
He estimated the cost to restore the park to working order at approximately $20-30,000.
The water running through the park was so powerful, he said, that it was able to pick up one of the telephone utility poles used as a parking barricade and floated it down to the playground.
None of the damage sustained to city property was covered under the city’s insurance, he said.
Elsewhere, a county culvert on Racine Avenue was unable to handle the rising waters and water backed up toward the high school, he said, and the pond behind Brosh Chapel overflowed across Main Street.
“We had a lot of areas with heavy localized flooding,” he concluded.
Kleppe said the city has contracted with Jay Proffitt to salvage some of the playground material spread across the park, and public works staff were able to quickly clean out the shelter shortly after the water receded.
But any further action would await discussion by council members, he said.
That consideration came later in the meeting.
After the flooding, Johnson was one of several Iowa counties to be declared a state disaster area by Gov. Terry Branstad, making the Iowa Individual Assistance Program available to residents who meet income guidelines.
The city is asking all residents impacted by the flood to register the damage through the Johnson County Emergency Management Agency.
Residents are encouraged to contact City Hall at 624-3755 with any questions.
Mayor Stange said he met with some of the families affected by the flash flood.
“It’s so devastating and very sad and hard to watch them go through that,” Stange said. “It’s kind of a helpless feeling that there’s not a lot that we as a city could provide.”
The city did provide dumpsters at the public works building for the disposal of flood debris, he said, and the City of Iowa City waived the landfill tipping fees that resulted. “That’s huge, folks, that’s huge,” he said.
He complimented the city’s staff, as well as City Engineer Dave Schechinger, who came down in the middle of the night, for their efforts during the event.
“The citizens should feel really good about the people they have working for them and how much they look out for this town,” Stange said.
Because of historic flooding in some residential areas, Stange suggested the city should create a storm water committee to determine whether there are actions the city can take to mitigate future events.
“I’m hoping there’s a lot of discussion that comes out of this,” he said. “I want to see some type of work and accomplishment so that if these folks have to go through this again we’re not holding our hand out saying, ‘We’re sorry.’”
As for Randall Park, Stange urged council members against inaction.
After conferring with City Administrator Cami Rasmussen, he said, potential funding for repairs was identified in the fund that collects rental fees from the Timber DOME Lodge.
“I know we were hoping to do some heating work down there, but this is a more immediate need,” he said.
“It’s such a heavily used park that to let it set the way it is right now is a mistake,” he added.
Council members Lynn Morris and Ron Herdliska both questioned the possible relocation of the playground equipment, but Stange indicated it would not be financially feasible for a short-term solution. He didn’t rule it out as a long-term possibility, however.
He suggested council members take some time to think about it, with a decision to come at the next regular meeting.
But after a brief consideration, council members were ready to take action.
“There’s no use waiting,” said council member Steve Duncan. “We don’t have a viable alternative.”
Without a formal vote, council members gave their blessing to utilizing the park fund for the repairs.