Park flood zone discussions continue

By RICHARD LUKEN
Register Reporter

It’s too soon to tell if a trip to Washington, D.C., will affect the federal government’s opinion that Iola’s Riverside Park should be considered in a flood-prone area.
City Administrator Judy Brigham briefed Iola commissioners Tuesday about the trip, taken with Mayor Bill Maness and Assistant City Administrator Corey Schinstock, to Washington earlier this month. There, the Iolans visited with officials from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and representatives of Sens. Sam Brownback and Pat Roberts and Rep. Lynn Jenkins.
At issue is a pending ruling from FEMA that the park will be counted in a flood zone because the railroad corridor on its east side is not a certified levee. Rebuilding the railroad corridor to levee strength likely would cost millions of dollars. Even an engineer’s study is expected to cost thousands.
If the park is put in a flood zone, the city would have to pay higher premiums for flood insurance for buildings in the park and any new construction likely would be subject to more stringent regulations.
There are other factors in play. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is in the process of recertifying the levees on the park’s south, west and north sides.
Brigham said her visit with the Corps of Engineers left her hopeful the Corps would provide federal money to study and possibly rebuild the railroad corridor, in part because the Corps may acknowledge that the other three levees should not have been certified because they tied into the railroad corridor instead of another levee.
Brigham said another idea that may find favor at the federal level is tying the railroad corridor rebuild, if necessary, into a National Guard project, utilizing the 891st Engineer Battalion, headquartered in Iola.
Brigham said her visit with FEMA representatives wasn’t as beneficial. It’s too soon to tell whether FEMA will designate the park as flood-prone, even after approving federal funds for a new swimming pool, rebuilt community building and refurbished recreation building.
Commissioner Craig Abbott asked how hard the city planned to pursue the levee certification. Higher flood insurance premiums would cost the city about $4,000 annually, Abbott said. The engineer’s study alone could cost the city the equivalent of 20 years worth of higher premiums.
How much is spent on a study and possible rebuild would be the commissioners’ decision, Brigham said.

A COMMITTEE that will propose new charter ordinances for the city, necessary to change Iola’s governing body to a city council, should have its recommendations to the city by Dec. 22.
Brigham said the Dec. 22 deadline would allow time for any protest petitions to the new governing structure be filed before next April.
The ordinance committee is meeting weekly. The group will visit with a League of Kansas Municipalities representative this week, Brigham said.

LEAH OSWALD and Becky Nilges were on hand to discuss progress from a $47,000 Iola Museum and Library Services Grant received by Iola Public Library.
The two-year grant, issued in 2008, has allowed the library to schedule reading workshops, a reading festival and acquire a mono-mouse, a hand-held video magnifying device that projects print from books and magazines onto a television screen.
“One of the big positives of the grant is the partnering it’s allowed us to do,” Nilges said, mentioning joint activities with local groups such as Allen County Community College and the Bowlus Fine Arts Center.
Commissioners also formally accepted from the Flewharty family a house at 211 East. St., which will be used solely by the library.
Roger Carswell, the library’s executive director, said plans were to use the house for Christmas storytime activities and to store library materials while the library undergoes renovations in 2010.
Commissioners were told by City Attorney Chuck Apt that the city would need to put in place a policy that permits the library to determine the use of the house; otherwise such decisions would fall to commissioners.

A HEARING will be Dec. 8 for the city to decide whether to begin condemnation proceedings on the old IGA building at 314 W. Garfield St.
Code Enforcement Officer Jeff Bauer told commissioners that the building’s owner indicated a number of repairs would occur in the next few weeks, including a new roof and new sprinkler system.
Commissioners also set for Dec. 8 a condemnation hearing for a house at 518 N. Second St.
Lt. Eric Lawrence of the Iola Police Department told commissioners that Ray’s Mini Mart had corrected city code violations and has been reissued a license to sell adult entertainment materials.
Maness said he favored seeing the city toughen its ordinances affecting adult entertainment licensing to prevent repeat violations.
Abbott, however, noted that Ray’s is the only such license holder and that he was opposed to changing an ordinance for a single business. He requested the city send store owners a letter indicating the city would be less inclined to renew the license if repeat violations occurred.

COMMISSIONERS tabled action on whether to pay Landworks Studio $4,100 to assist the city in applying for Kansas Department of Transportation funds to extend the Prairie Spirit Trail from Cofachique Park to Riverside Park.
The commissioners said they weren’t opposed to using Landworks, of Olathe, to assist with the grant application, but noted the city already was paying about $25,000 to Landworks to help with the Vision Iola Master Plan.
“We just want to make sure we’re not paying twice for the same service,” Maness said.