DAVENPORT, Iowa -- In a town where manicured walkways line the riverbank for miles and summer jazz festivals draw hundreds of thousands of people to the water's edge, it's hard for residents like Kami Rathburn to imagine a long cement floodwall blocking the view.
"It's worth it to have access to the sight of the river," Rathburn, 24, said.
Their only view right now, however, is of a 1,200-foot-long clay-and-sandbag levee. Flooding pushed the Mississippi River to a crest of 22.3 feet, its third-highest level on record and third flood in the past decade -- yet the city has rejected permanent flood control. By Thursday morning, waters had dropped only slightly, to 22.1 feet.
Many business owners are saying enough is enough.
"In a business district like this, you shouldn't have to go through this every four years," said Kenny Hagge, a furniture store owner who moved his showroom upstairs after the 1993 flood.
It's an argument of money vs. beauty that's not expected to subside anytime soon.
Record flooding in 1993 cost Davenport an estimated $100 million, and Federal Emergency Management Agency aid to the region swelled to $1.2 billion.
FEMA director Joe Allbaugh, a straight-talking Midwesterner who grew up in tornado-prone Oklahoma, has chided Davenport for not building a floodwall long ago. The city of 98,300 is the largest urban area on the upper Mississippi without one.
"I mean, the question is: How many times will the American taxpayer have to step in and take care of this flooding, which could be easily prevented by building levees and dikes?" Allbaugh said Monday.
The government's point man on natural disasters was to inspect flood damage along the river Thursday and meet with Gov. Tom Vilsack and Mayor Phil Yerington.
Unlike its neighbors, including Dubuque and Rock Island, Ill., Davenport has opposed a permanent flood barrier to avoid obstructing the river view. Tourism, much of it river-based, brings $100 million annually to the Quad Cities -- Davenport, Bettendorf, Rock Island and Moline, Ill.
In 1984, the Davenport City Council voted against a floodwall that would have cost $33.8 million, with the city paying 35 percent of the cost. A new wall could cost $50 million, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Allbaugh's criticism angered Yerington. Like other parts of the nation prone to tornadoes, hurricanes and earthquakes, riverside taxpayers deserve federal help when flooding hits, the mayor said.
"We pay our share of the load," Yerington said. "I feel sometimes the people in this area have been singled out and are punished just because we happen to live along the river."
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.