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Iowans ask state for Missouri River flooding help

COUNCIL BLUFFS, Iowa (AP) — Iowans whose farms, homes and businesses were damaged by this summer's flooding along the Missouri River gathered with top state officials on Friday to vent their frustration with the state's response and to ask for more help in recovering.

Gov. Terry Branstad was among the state officials who on hand at the Council Bluffs event to hear residents' concerns and try to answer their questions. Many in the packed auditorium voiced frustration with the way the flood was managed and wanted to know more about repair plans.

Hundreds of thousands of acres of land has been flooded along the Missouri River since June because heavy spring rains and significant mountain snowpack generated massive amounts of water. The floodwaters have started to recede, but the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers predicts the river won't return to normal flows until sometime in October.

It won't be possible to assess all the damage until after the floodwaters recede.

"We know there's a lot of work ahead of us," Branstad said. "We want to do all we can to move forward as expeditiously as possible,"

Several representatives of the hard-hit area of southwest Iowa attended the meeting to express their concerns. Fremont County board member Cara Marker-Morgan said the area around Hamburg is not new to flooding, but people have never experienced a flood that lasted as long as this one. People are eager to rebuild.

"We can't rebuild until our levees are fixed. And we have a sketchy outline of when those levees will be fixed," Marker-Morgan said.

Officials had to scramble in June to build a temporary levee to protect Hamburg after floodwaters breached two levees several miles south of town in northwest Missouri. Now Hamburg officials are hoping to keep that temporary levee.

"We're doing everything that we can to make that permanent," Hamburg mayor Kathy Carin said.

Several business leaders from AGP and MidAmerican Energy said they hope they won't have to remove expensive levees they built this summer to protect their facilities.

"I don't want anyone to come along and tell us we have to remove it," said AGP's John Campbell, whose firm spent about $2 million on one levee.

Farmers have been hit especially hard by flooding because much of the land that has been underwater all summer is cropland. Iowa Farm Bureau President Craig Lang said his group estimates that more than 125,000 acres of Iowa farmland was flooded and another 120,000 acres were affected by soggy soil.

"I've found that farmers are not bitter. They're looking for solutions," Lang said.

But farmer Rick Archer, who lives near Onawa, questioned why FEMA has approved individual disaster aid for people in Nebraska counties along the river while denying similar aid in Iowa. Branstad has been fighting to get individual disaster aid approved.

Doug Palmer had to shut down his Big Soo barge and rail terminal business in Sioux City in June, but he has continued paying his employees to maintenance work and other chores.

"It has been very painful from an economic standpoint," Palmer said.

Council Bluffs Mayor Tom Hanifan summarized his city's needs succinctly: "Cash and lots of it."

Many people at the meeting questioned the way the Corps of Engineers has managed the massive amounts of water that flowing down the Missouri River this year. Corps officials defended their decisions, but didn't seem to change many minds in the crowd.

The Corps' Jody Farhat, who oversees the six dams along the river, said the reservoirs had the normal amount of flood storage space available in the spring. And she said there was no reason to start significantly increasing the amount of water released from the dams until unusually heavy rains fell in May and June across the Upper Plains.

"We've always operated the system on the best-available information," Farhat said.

Corps officials emphasized that this summer set numerous records all along the Missouri River, and the sheer volume of water couldn't be anticipated. Roughly 61 million acre-feet of water is expected to pass through the Missouri River system this year — well above the previous record of 49 million acre-feet.

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