Hamburg city officials cast reluctant votes Friday afternoon to end their campaign to save the levee that kept them dry during the Missouri River flood of 2011.
The levee, originally designed to hold overflow from a drainage ditch on the west side of town, gained national notoriety in 2011 as flood waters poured from upstream reservoirs.
Fremont County Emergency Management Director Mike Crecelius joined city officials at the fire station to alert residents that U.S. Corps of Engineer flood forecasting maps showed water as deep as eight feet.
The Corps of Engineers had identified the flood potential because of a weak area on the river levee and had to make a decision to put energy into shoring up the levee or building up the west ditch around Hamburg.
City Councilman Willie Thorp said the corps' decision to protect Hamburg by raising the levee from 11 feet to 19 feet kept Hamburg dry, but cost $8 million.
He said it does not make sense to Hamburg residents to put that much money into building the levee just to turn around and spend up to $2 million to take it back down.
To keep the levee, Hamburg would have to bring it back down to its original height of 11 feet and then construct the extra eight feet according to regulations and engineering studies.
He said the city council appealed to government at all levels to let the levee stand as is.
"We didn't want to take it down. It held water for three months. The flood water was right at its top and it held. What better test could you give it?" Thorp said.
Councilman Earl Hendrickson called Friday's vote to take the levee improvements down as sad moment.
"Taking it down is all we can afford, and we really can't afford that," he said.
He said Hamburg's annual budget is only $1.2 million, so a $5.5 million construction project is out of reach.
It is expected to cost $1.6 million to take it back down and return 158,000 cubic yards of dirt to nearby farmers.
The city has rented the dirt from the farmers since the flood and has paid $22,000 in rents to date.
The city's share of removing the dirt is $300,000.
Federal Emergency Management will pay 75 percent and the state will pay 10 percent.
Hendrickson said the city council had to make the vote because of an April 1 deadline for the federal funds.
"We had to make a decision we didn't want to make," he said.
Iowa Department of Economic Development had pledged $1 million if the city would keep the levee.
Hamburg residents had also tried private fundraising, including a choreographed music video, but donations topped out at $52,000.
Mayor Cathy Crain said the money will be used for flood relief and other flood related projects.
Page 2 of 2 - She said the donors are encouraging.
"I just thank them for believing in us and contributing to our city," she said.
A Missouri River flood last reached Hamburg in 1952 and the West Ditch last flooded in 1993.
Although the area does not regularly flood, Hendrickson said flood protection remains an important issue for the area.
"When I was a kid you could count up to 34 families living south of Hamburg in what we call the island, now there's none. No one wants to live with the threat of floods," he said.
Thorp called his vote Friday a last resort.
"We tried everything we could, but we got shot down," he said.