Axne Discusses Infrastructure Funding At Southwest Iowa Mayors' Roundtable
Mayors from eight southwest Iowa cities met with District 3 Congresswoman Cindy Axne Friday morning in Council Bluffs to learn more about the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act that’s projected to bring $5 billion in federal funds to the state.
The bipartisan infrastructure bill was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Joe Biden in November.
“I’m so excited. I don’t know how many times we talked about getting infrastructure done,” Axne said. “I don’t even know how many presidents talked about moving an infrastructure bill forward. We’ve got an infrastructure bill and I’m so excited to see this come through bipartisan, bicameral and meet the needs we have here in Iowa.”
Axne said because of the way the federal government is structured, Iowa and other states in rural America are often “left behind” when it comes to distribution of federal dollars but she’s confident that won’t be the case when it comes to addressing infrastructure needs.
“What I think about in this area is high-speed internet and bridge repairs,” she said. “For Iowa, we’re at the bottom of the list when it comes to how well we perform in those areas so we’re going to get the funds to do that. This is big for us.”
Iowa is projected to receive around $100 million to expand broadband internet, over $430 million for the repair and revitalization of 4,500-plus bridges, $3.5 billion for highway improvements, $120 million for airport upgrades, $638 million to improve and upgrade water lines and water quality and $305 million to address public transportation needs. Iowa’s also eligible to receive funds to protect the state’s infrastructure against cyberattacks and climate resiliency funds and grants for flood and storm protection projects.
Each mayor was given the opportunity to speak about the needs and potential use for the federal dollars in their community.
Pacific Junction Mayor Andy Young and Hamburg Mayor Cathy Crain addressed the flood recovery efforts in their communities and steps that should be taken to prevent future disasters similar to what occurred along the Missouri River in 2011 and 2019. Both mayors said making infrastructure investments without ensuring protection from nearby levees is “pointless.”
Crain said both the state the federal governments, including the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, need to focus on prevention instead of reaction when it comes to flooding. Addressing the levee system is the first step, she said.
“We need a new levee built here,” she said, “which is this long line about twice as long to connect to the Nishnabotna, and then we need to raise the Nishnabotna levee about three feet and then we will be encircled.”
Axne said she strongly agrees with Crain.
“Let’s do this so we don’t have to deal with this for the next eight years for something that should have never happened,” Axne said.
Young said Pacific Junction won’t be able to move forward until the levee issues are resolved.
“Our biggest concern is getting the levees accredited,” he said. “We’ve got all this money they’re telling us we can have but if the levees aren’t accredited, the money does us no good. If we don’t fix that (levees) first, what’s the point?
“From the beginning, it was the Missouri River bottom, and now they’re telling us we’ve got a few spots on Pony Creek and Keg Creek levees that need to be certified. Those aren’t Corps-controlled levees so we’ll have to have money do those.”
Axne suggested infrastructure funds designated for “clean water” could possibly be used for improvements to private levees near Pacific Junction that aren’t managed by federal agencies.
“I look at ‘clean water’ and it doesn’t necessarily say levees,” she said, “but I’ll tell you what, when our levees don’t work and that gets into our water system, we don’t have clean water.”
Glenwood Mayor Ron Kohn shared concerns about the challenges municipalities face in securing federal and state dollars and grants.
“One of the things that is our primary concern is that we seem to be at the bottom of some of these funding streams,” Kohn said. “I know when we go to the state as far as roads and that kind of stuff, the city of Glenwood seems to be below the state priorities and then the county priorities.”
Kohn said much of the existing infrastructure in Glenwood is over 50 years old, including roads, sewer lines, the water treatment plant, a bridge and the fire station.
Kohn said the Glenwood area is growing and new homes are being constructed, but with that growth comes a need for infrastructure improvements.
“We need to have a means of expanding those and replacing what we have,” he said. “We have a real opportunity to do some growing and because of our proximity to Council Bluffs and also the Omaha area, we have a lot of people that would like to live in our area. Some live in the city and some out in the rural areas so water and sewer are very important to the city and also to the rural areas.”
Kohn said replacing the fire station is one of the “biggest hurdles and probably most important one” the city is facing.
Axne said Glenwood is an example of a community that needs some spending flexibility with its needs. She said she’s exploring to see if and what monies could be used for operation and maintenance expenses, but noted that “fund swapping” for projects that occurred previously at the state level won’t be allowed.
Axne provided each mayor with a contact list of key people in Iowa connected with the distribution of funds, including representatives from Gov. Kim Reynolds’ office, Iowa Department of Transportation, Department of Natural Resources, Iowa Finance Authority and the Environmental Protection Agency. She encouraged the mayors to be aggressive in pursuing the funds for their respective cities.
“This is big business for Iowa - $5 billion is a lot of money in infrastructure,” she said. “We want the small towns, too, who don’t have the money to write those grants, to have equal opportunity to get the money they need.”
In addition to Glenwood and Pacific Junction, the cities of Council Bluffs, Farragut, Hamburg, Shenandoah, Sidney, Stanton and Red Oak were represented at the meeting.