Vinton firefighters helped set up HESCO flood barriers in Sept. of 2016 to protect the fire station from flood waters. A new FEMA report recommends building a new fire station away from the flood plain.

In an 82-page report delivered to the City of Vinton recently, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) recommended building a new Vinton Fire Station away from the Cedar River.

The suggestion is one of many included in the report, which also outlines the costs of permanent flood barriers to protect essential structures, including the fire station and light plant.

The City Council received the report during a meeting last month, but did not take any action on it. The topic of flood mitigation and FEMA recommendations is likely to be on the agenda in future council meetings.

The fire station has been affected by flooding three times in the past decade. In the historic 24.7 foot flood in June of 2008, the entire building was under several feet of water. Later that year, thanks to the help of many members of the VFD providing skilled volunteer labor, the building was repaired for around $63,000.

Five years later, in June of 2013, volunteers and VFD members helped protect the building from a predicted flood level of 22 feet, but the river eventually crested at less than 19 feet. That incident, however, did give city leaders a chance to see how the HESCO flood barriers work, and what kind of equipment and labor is required to use them.

Those HESCO barriers went up again around the fire station and light plant in September of 2016, when the river rose to its second-highest recorded level of 21.8 feet.

While the barriers helped protect the fire station from the later floods, the FEMA report highlights several challenges that flooding is causing the VFD.

“While the HESCO barrier aided in containing floodwaters above the surface, under-seepage (where floodwaters move through soil) and floodwaters overtaking the sewer system remained major issues, requiring three firefighters to remain at the fire station to man pumps. Under-seepage also caused damages to building foundations. Local officials expressed concern regarding the time and manpower needed to construct the HESCO barrier prior to an event and deconstruct the barrier following a flood event. Critical facilities and the functions they perform are of utmost importance during a hazard event, as they protect the health and safety of the community. Therefore, the ability of critical facilities to operate without interruption during and after hazard events should be a priority for communities. It is for these reasons that the City of Vinton is exploring several options for mitigating future flood risk to two critical facilities, the fire station and the power plant,” according to the FEMA report.

The report lists the costs of building a new fire station at around $6.1 million. It cites two possible locations: The IBSSS campus, over which the city is currently negotiating with the Iowa Board of Regents; and the empty building that once housed Cafe 218 on Highway 218 (K Avenue) on the city’s northwest side.

FEMA funding would cover 75 percent of the costs, with state and local funding providing the remaining 25 percent.

The estimated timeline for the total project would be two years and three months, according to the report.

At council meeting earlier this year, Fire Chief Gary McKenna told the council that speaking as a citizen, and not on behalf of the fire department, he believed the city should put a new fire station at the Cafe 218 location.

Light plant protection

While most of the report details the fire station and options/expenses for a new building, many of its pages also include ideas for protecting the light plant with permanent concrete flood barriers. Those projects could cost up to $5 million to $16 million, depending on how much of the area city and FEMA officials agree to protect with such walls.

City officials have just begun reviewing the report. Which options to consider, and how to pay for them, are among the many questions the council will be addressing in the future.

See the entire report here: FEMA flood report vinton