More questions about the 245th Street bridge were brought up by a concerned resident at the end of the Muscatine County Supervisors meeting Monday, May 22.
Chuck Houseman lives on Edgewater Road near the bridge.
“I just want to ask if there’s any kind of progress report that you can give to the individuals concerned about the bridge down there,” Houseman said to them.
Houseman said he understood a committee was formed but hasn’t heard anything further from the committee. He said he’s sent emails but was told they were under a gag order.
“I don’t believe we’re under a gag order but Jim Barry (Muscatine County Attorney) is the point person,” Board chairman Scott Sauer said.
Houseman asked Sauer how Barry got involved with a road maintenance issue.
“He’s the county attorney,” Sauer replied.
Houseman said he thought the county attorney’s job was to prosecute criminals and not this.
“The county attorney tells everybody what their responsibility is,” Supervisor Nathan Mather said.
“The county attorney advises the board on all matters,” Supervisor Jeff Sorensen added.
Houseman told the supervisors he didn’t understand why the information the committee was reviewing on the 245th Street bridge was so secretive. Houseman said he sent Sauer an email but didn’t a response, but the county attorney did respond to his email.
“And I can say this that the process is going forward just as I responded to you,” Sauer said. “As the group gathers information, options and costs of this particular project. All I can say is it’s a complicated issue and takes some time, and I’m going to leave it at that.”
“OK,” Houseman responded.
Houseman said he had one more question for the supervisors. In 2009, seven properties in that area were bought after the flood. He wanted to know how much money the property owners received from the buyout and how much it cost to demolish the cabins.
Money from the Federal Emergency Management Authority (FEMA) helped with the buyout process, he added.
“I think that was somebody’s decision in this room to use that money for that purpose rather than fix the bridge,” Houseman said.
Muscatine County Zoning Administrator Eric Furnas told Houseman there was money from the Hazard Mitigation program used for this purpose after the 2008 flood. Seventy-five percent of the funding comes from FEMA, 10 percent comes from the State of Iowa and 15 percent locally. He said he would have to go back and look to see how much was given at that time to the property owners.
“Any hazard mitigation program purchase is strictly voluntary as well,” Furnas said. “It’s not a decision the county makes on behalf of the landowner.”
This prevents from future damage or hazards happening in flood plains, he added.
Houseman said he understood it is a voluntary program but argued this was for permanent homes, which five of the seven cabins were not.
“Well, again this was a voluntary program,” Furnas said.
“That’s not my question,” Houseman said. “Show me some dollar signs that says this action on your behalf benefited the people of Muscatine County.”
There are seven structures heavily damaged that were bought out and are no longer there, Furnas replied.
Houseman understood it was a voluntary buyout, he said. He said some of the landowners got more money than they put into the land or cabins they had there.
“I would assume that sooner or later we’re going to get some kind of answer out of this committee what direction you’re headed as far as taking care of that bridge,” he added.
The bridge will eventually cause more problems for the county because landowners will file for damages if they can’t get to their home or property anymore, Houseman said.
“To me, that looks like that would cost the county more in the long run if everybody down there did that instead of replacing the bridge,” Houseman added. “I’ve said my piece.”
“OK,” Sauer said. “What you said is exactly what I responded. We’re gathering information on costs and what you asked for is exactly what we’re doing.”
“When can you give us a progress update?” Houseman asked Sauer.
“Can’t answer that,” Sauer replied.
There were no more questions or comments made by Houseman.
Sauer asked if there was anyone else who would like to speak from the public. No one wanted to so the meeting ended.