LOGAN, Iowa — A 92-year-old levee, in disrepair for decades, was behind a heated meeting Thursday at the Harrison County Courthouse.
Several local farmers and landowners want the Utman levee fixed. Other farmers do not, believing that it would cause water to be pushed onto their land.
Both sides appeared Thursday before the Harrison County Board to argue their cases. The board acts as the governing body for the levee.
Supporters of fixing the levee say its condition cost them $1.4 million during the 2011 floods.
They sued the County Board after they asked that the breach be fixed and no work was done.
Last year, District Court Judge Kathleen Kilnoski ruled that the breach should be fixed and repairs made.
Pocahontas attorney James Hudson said Iowa law requires the board to fix the levee. If that doesn't happen, supporters will take the matter to court again, he said.
“It's time to obey the law,” Hudson told the County Board members. “It's time to obey what the judge said, or we'll be back in court.”
Kilnoski ruled in September, but the board said it wanted to hold a public meeting before taking action.
Opponents argued there was no proof that flooding caused the 2011 losses. The damage may have been caused by the elevated water table — something a levee cannot protect against.
“When the river goes up, the water table goes up,” said James Olsen, a local farmer. “My belief is a lot of that water was groundwater. How are you going to control the groundwater?”
The expected $18,700-plus repair bill could be better spent elsewhere, Olsen and others argued.
Another argument against the Utman levee is that another levee protects the area from the Missouri River. Years after the Utman was built, the Rand-Petersen levee was constructed close to the river. That levee held during the 2011 floods.
Those wanting the Utman repaired are specifically interested in filling a 200-foot gap in the levee. Locals say it was illegally cut by a farmer decades ago for reasons that are not completely clear.
Utman supporters believe that repairing the levee would better protect them from water that gets around the Rand-Peterson levee; had the breach been fixed, their land would have remained relatively dry in 2011, they say.
Troy Groth, an engineer from Denison, investigated the condition of the levee at the board's request and, in 2012, recommended that a little over a mile of it be repaired and the gap be filled. It was originally about 2½ miles long, he said.
Harrison County Attorney Jennifer Mumm said the matter should be discussed during closed session because of the litigation. Officials said one would be scheduled soon.