Axne: Legislation would prevent repeat of Hamburg levee controversy

Aerial view of flooded Hamburg Iowa in 2019
Homes and businesses were surrounded by floodwater on March 20, 2019 in Hamburg, Iowa. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

U.S. Rep. Cindy Axne told Iowans Wednesday that part of the House-approved Water Resources Development Act would overturn a federal rule that left Hamburg without full levee protection in a major flood last year. 

Axne, D-Iowa, spoke to the Iowa Farmers Union via Zoom Wednesday. The water legislation is pending in the Senate.

Hamburg, a town of 1,000 near the Missouri border in southwest Iowa, was an eerie sight during another major flood in 2011. Day and floodlight-soaked night, crews arranged by the city and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers supervised a steady stream of trucks. Load after load of clay was delivered to bolster the town’s levee as the Missouri River threatened to overrun the town, and blew out lesser levees to the south. 

Head shot of Cindy Axne
U.S. Rep. Cindy Axne is a Democrat who represents Iowa’s 3rd Congressional District.

The town limited damage with the makeshift levee in 2011. But the federal government told city officials they had to remove the temporary levee after the flood under federal quality control rules. The city lobbied for rule changes and tried to raise money to put in an approved, permanent levee addition, but failed. Last year’s flood heavily damaged Hamburg.

Many blamed the Army Corps of Engineers, which operates dams, levees and reservoirs along the Missouri River. Corps officials responded that the rules were approved by Congress and passed down to the Corps.

“I can’t imagine anything that’s a bigger waste of taxpayer dollars than putting people in harm’s way because of some red tape and saying ‘you have to tear this down because we didn’t authorize it’ even though it works and it keeps people safe,” Axne said.

Axne addressed a range of other issues as the nonprofit farmers union asked questions:

Beef prices: Axne said she authored a companion bill to Senate legislation from Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, that would require beef packers to buy at last half their cattle on the cash market to prevent too much market influence from major companies. “We are being shoved out of this market like it’s nobody’s business with COVID,” Axne said. “I am going to make sure we push this agenda. (Farmers) are not getting a fair share.”

Broadband: The federal pandemic-related stimulus bill and any infrastructure legislation should include money to improve broadband service in rural areas, Axne said. 

COVID vaccines: “We are trying to get the vaccine out there and available to everyone. Your ZIP code and the amount of money you have should never dictate what kind of health care you have.”

Test Iowa: Axne said she has contacted GOP Gov. Kim Reynolds’ office to push for better information on the extent of infections at nursing homes. “We have had different ways that has been presented” that have made it difficult to gauge what the situation is, Axne said. She added that because Congress approve funding for the work, she has oversight responsibilities on Test Iowa.

Stimulus money for oil companies: Axne opposes offering COVID-related stimulus money to fossil fuels companies. “My personal feeling is ‘no,’” those companies should not get the aid that she and others have sought for ethanol, Axne said in response to a question. “They have been handed a silver platter for years, especially with this administration.”

Social distancing: “I am telling people, ‘Stay a Cindy Axne away from people.’ That’s a solid 6 feet.”