Hamburg residents, drowning in the darkness of a flood fight 182 days old, needed hope. On Sept. 16, 2019, hope was delivered in the form of two awards from a Flood Recovery Fund created by the Iowa State Legislature.
Eight years prior to the historic flood of 2019, the people of the community knew what it needed in order for the town to be protected. And for the community to thrive.
It needed a levee.
In 2011, the community built up the Ditch 6 levee on Hamburg’s western edge and it saved the town from flood waters.
Unfortunately, despite all efforts to save the levee, the Ditch 6 structure was lowered to an elevation of 911 feet above sea level.
In March of 2019, flood waters raged toward town, and, with little notice, the community had no time to build the levee up and keep the water out.
Water devastated the community, particularly the south end of town and sent community members spiraling into one of the darkest periods in the history of a town used to fighting floods.
Promises were made. And the hope was that, this time, the flood fight would end with Hamburg having a levee of 919 feet, eight feet higher. It would have protected the town in 2019 as the waters came in at 918 feet, overtopping the 911 foot levee by seven feet.
Unfortunately, the promise was withdrawn. And Hamburg, like in 2011, was facing the idea of having to fight for the flood protection the citizens deserved.
Despite fiscal responsibility that had Hamburg boasting little debt and a $500,000 cash reserve prior to the flood, the town had spent all of that reserve money fighting to keep the town alive. Hamburg had gone into debt.
The money would have to come from somewhere.
Enter the Flood Recovery Fund.
On Monday, Sept. 16, Hamburg Mayor Cathy Crain, Hamburg City Clerk Sheryl Owen, and Hamburg Utilities Manager Al Dovel made the trip from Hamburg to the Iowa State Capitol in Des Moines, Iowa, seeking funds, lots of them.
There were $15 million available.
But there also 10 requests on the table from cities and entities effected by the horrible flood water. Would Hamburg get the funds it needed?
Owen said buy out requests came first in the funding order.
In order for its residents to receive federal buy out funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the local governing agency would have to come up with money.
The state of Iowa was responsible for 10 percent of the buyouts. FEMA would chip in for 75 percent. That left the local government agency needing 15 percent.
Funds from the Flood Recovery Fund gave local governments their part portion of the cost.
In addition, the members of the board controlling the Flood Recovery Fund offered $2 million to a community seeking to fortify a levee of its own.
In order to get the Hamburg Ditch 6 to 919, much more money would be needed.
The Army Corps of Engineers had estimated the cost of a 919 build to be $12 million.
Dovel said he knew that cost was high, as much as 30 percent, because the cost was being estimated using an emergency situation as the back drop. With a round the clock and frantic build, the cost goes way up.
Done as a normal job, the way Hamburg would do  the 919 build, less money would be needed.
Bottom line was that Hamburg would still need a lot of money for Ditch 6.
The state delivered.
With Hamburg being the last up for its levee award, Joyce Flinn, chairman of the Flood Recovery Fund board and director of Iowa Homeland Security and Emergency Management, had a question for Mayor Crain.
“Mayor Cathy, how about $6.3 million?”
And the mayor’s immediate response was, “We are building a levee!”
Jubilation and tears broke out in the room. Hamburg’s representatives were overjoyed feeling that their community was being given a fighting chance to survive and to thrive.
The Hamburg representatives were not the only ones cheering.
“When they awarded us the $6.3 million, one of the guys in the room from another town jumped up and grabbed me and hugged me and said, ‘You have waited too long. It shouldn’t have been this hard. Congratulations.”
It was a community environment at the Capitol Building that day.
All those communities needing money and at the same time, showing solidarity.
“Every single community there had been devastated by this,” said Mayor Crain.
“Here you were in a room of competitors. You are all striving for the same money, and, yet, we all were pushing and hoping for each other,” Crain said. “It was an unbelievable experience. We were all crying.”
People in the room understood and, more than likely empathized with what Hamburg was facing.
“We have had an eight year history, from the time we did that silly video trying to save the levee, to now. Everybody knows our story,” said Crain.
Still, Hamburg went to Des Moines knowing their request would be significant part of the $15 million. And that could have resulted in bad feelings.
“Instead, they were happy for us and we were happy for them,” Crain said.
The official total for the levee award to Hamburg was $6,256,324.20.
And that big award wasn’t the only good news Hamburg got on the levee fight.
Members of the board expressed concern that the award might not be enough.
And, after minor number crunching, it would be easy to see how it might not cover the cost.
But Hamburg got great news in hearing that the board would have more funds available after the first of the year in case more are needed.