Recent developments seem to signal a turn toward positive horizons for the residents of flood ravaged Hamburg with state aid coming in to help build the levee protection the community members have been seeking since 2011.
Any thought that the flood event is over, however, or that the Hamburg community is getting back to where it was before March 2019 should be instantaneously dismissed.
Recovery has just started. It won’t be over for a very long time.
Sheryl Owen, Hamburg’s city clerk, understands the desire to regain the normalcy that existed before the flood.
“I know people want to rebuild. I know people want to have Hamburg back the way it used to be,” Owen said. “We are not there right now.
“We have to recover. If you don’t recover right, you are never going to be back to where you need to be,” she said.
Judging by the process of recovery from 2011, Owen estimated that physical recovery from the 2019 historic flooding could take six to eight years.
Those years won’t be just years of waiting. They’ll be years of action on tedious details and lengthy labor processes.
Where is the positive in all of this?
Grant funds. Over 11 million to be exact.
That’s what Owen, Mayor Cathy Crain and Utilities Manager Al Dovel have been able to gather with help from city council members, volunteers and others.
Each line item of the grant dollars have been sought and are earmarked for use in solving specific city issues.
The biggest of the line items is the $6.3 million in levee construction money that will help Hamburg build a levee that Army Corps of Engineers models suggest will be sufficient to prosect the community from future flood damage.
Owen said the money is available right now to Hamburg on a draw down basis. As bills are created for the work on the levee, they are submitted to the state and paid by using some of the $6.3 million.
There’s 940K that’s available to cover Hamburg’s portion of a potential buy out by FEMA once federal and state dollars are available to complete those transactions, hopefully sometime next year.
There’s money available through a $500K housing grant for a fill in program to build homes to replace some of the homes lost to the south Hamburg flood event.
A $1 million water source grant will cover Hamburg’s 15 percent of a FEMA project that rebuilt the water plant and will be available for a project aimed at bringing rural water to Hamburg in the event city water can’t be used at some future date and also as a means of creating more industrial expansion opportunity and increased fire protection for the city.

A water distribution grant of $150,000 also stands to help specific city projects.
Grant money from the Fremont County Endowment, as much as $20K to $30K will help pay for the dirt to build the levee, a separate expense from those levee bills covered under the state aid.
There’s $26K available for the city’s use in meeting 15 percent of project costs for fixing damage at the town’s ball complex. That grant funding comes from the College World Series.
And then there’s $1 million to $1.5 million that is coming to the city in the form of a FEMA grant. Those grant dollars, like anything from FEMA, require a 75 percent federal, 10 percent state and 15 percent local share of cost.
Owen said the city hopes to pay its 15 percent through the use of grant dollars that will pay the city for lost revenue from city property tax, some $44K, and Category Z fees which are payments for administrative hours spent on the flood and also volunteer donated hours. Use of the property tax grant funds and the Category Z should go a long way to paying Hamburg’s portion of the FEMA projects for the city.
And there’s $150K in private donations for fill in help on these projects as well.
Lastly, there’s some $50K that the city is hoping to get back for services it was unable to bill when the utilities were taken out by flood waters.
When you go through the list or look at the top figure for the dollars secured through the city’s administrative processes, you feel that jolt of positive energy. Owen said the day that the city got its levee funds from the state, it felt like Hamburg had won the Iowa Lottery.
But a return home is a return to reality. The flood waters may be gone. But the damage is there. The river threatens. There is so much work that needs to be done. And let’s not even talk about the spring thaw looming in 2020.
And there’s that sadness again.
“The sadness is overwhelming for me. It still is,” Owen said.
Flood waters didn’t touch her property and they didn’t destroy her place of work, but Owen notes that it damaged the property and the lives of nearly everyone she knows. Residents in the north lost city services, access to medicine from Stoner Drug and gas for their cars and convenience items that are normally taken for granted.
And that condition existed for weeks and months, not days or hours.
Hamburg has shown resilience and the city is doing what it can to match that spirit. The city crews took on repairs for the city shop instead of submitting it as a FEMA project. That saved likely $25K in construction cost, Owen said, along with premiums from flood insurance that FEMA would have required.
Yes, another positive in this struggle through negatives.
Back to the grind.
Owen said the financials alone can be staggering. She says a great relationship with the state auditor helps get the books right. And that’s of huge importance. All the dollars must be entered into forms and accounted for meticulously with a number of audits coming in 2020.
“I just like people to know, what we are doing is really important work. It’s very tedious. It’s very time consuming. It’s very detail oriented,” Owen said.
And it’s under pressure.
The city of Hamburg has a draw down loan arrangement of $2 million, of which they’ve used $800K. Flood expenses are starting to slow down and FEMA money is starting to come in and bring down the debt amount.
But keep in mind that the city budget for a year is in the $1.2 million range. Having $800K in debt in that case would make the most steeled financial expert feel on edge.
Owen keeps focusing on the details, asking her state auditor questions and working through the process. It’s day by day. It’s what recovery is all about.
For Hamburg, it’s what it has to be, for now, and for years to come.
“We have to put it back together,” Owen said. “It’s a slow process.”