A home that offers the convenience of town living with a backyard of wild, natural landscape attracted these newlyweds to their first home purchase on Grove Street in Missouri Valley. They never imagined how wild their backyard would get.
“We bought the house knowing there was a washout, but it was nowhere near this big,” Jack Bennett said. “It was a farther distance away from the house.”
Narissa Bennett added that they were unaware of the source of the water prior to purchasing the property.
“We knew it was a project,” Jack said. “I saw something that was going to be individual, one-of-a-kind, and it was going to be ours. What a great opportunity.”
They thought with hard work and preparation, they could handle the small washout.
“It was a hole in the ground. So what do you do with a hole in the ground?” Jack said. “You find concrete and appropriate soil. We knew this was loess material, so we felt like we should be responsible and put loess back into it.”
They contacted a local source of concrete and soil to have everything lined up and ready to go when the time was right.
Narissa asked Mayor Shawn Kelly, a personal acquaintance, to come take a look at their backyard.
“They had the idea, ‘Where is this pipe coming from?’” Jack said. “It could be anything. A lot of stuff can happen over the years. It certainly couldn’t be the city’s because there is no mitigation field, no maintenance, nothing.”
Bennett said that they, with Kelly, ran water from a hose into the street drain and were surprised when that water came through the pipe into the washout. The Bennetts had learned that the City of Missouri Valley had, upon a previous owner’s request, attached an extension on the pipe in question.
“That put a stop on anything we were going to do. We thought, well, this is pretty simple. The city needs to put a stop to this. It is their gig. If you are going to do something like that for somebody, you have got to be responsible,” he said. “This is why we have government, to deal with such things.”
They were trying to partner with the city to fix the issue that, in their mind, was clearly a city issue.
The spring floodwaters came and their dreams of building their own sanctuary away from the hustle and bustle were nearly washed away – literally. The washout grew wider, longer, and deeper than before.
“This spring was not a typical spring, and boy did it move a lot of soil. It really became a threat,” he said, “and then it happened more when you get a little more rain and a little more with a little more rain.”
The home that the newlyweds dreamed of was quickly becoming a nightmare. Still, they kept a positive outlook and even began making other necessary improvements.
They graded their backyard to address a negative drainage issue, added a retaining wall, and removed a lot of debris from the washout itself.
They began seeking assistance from the City of Missouri Valley in June, but City Engineer Jim Olmsted claims the city has little, if any responsibility in the matter.
“We contacted (the city) and got a meeting with them and got no positive feedback from them – rather from Jim Olmsted,” Bennett said. “It is anything but their responsibility is what he kept (saying).”
It is their pipe, but they don’t have an easement. The Bennetts find that irresponsible. And though the city street’s runoff is carried through that pipe, the city refuses responsibility.
“This is not that big of a problem, yet, but when it becomes an occupancy issue for my house it goes from $30,000 to $40,000 to a quarter of a million dollars. This gets big, fast,” Bennett said. “We are fully prepared to go the entire distance. We are newlyweds. We just bought our first house, and we are doing better than we have ever done in our lives. What better do we have to do than defend our first home?”
At the Sept. 3 Missouri Valley City Council meeting, Bennett relayed that to council, stating, “It is obvious to… professionals that that (washout) was created by the unnatural concentration of water due to that pipe. I can’t help but feel as if the city attaching to that pipe made that pipe their responsibility, let alone that washout.”
City Clerk Jodie Flaherty said that she had contacted the city’s insurance carrier and was awaiting a reply. She added that she shared Bennett’s contact information as well.
Councilmember Roger Gunderson, who has stated that he believes the city has some responsibility, said, “Don’t rule out the possibility that you may need legal representation.”
Mayor Shawn Kelly was absent for the latest city council meeting, but said when contacted later that Olmsted conducted a study to determine the cause of the washout and added that the city was looking, with the Bennetts, into alternatives and costs.
“There is only but to apply correct principle to any moment, and this is one of them. I would sure like to see correct principle applied, not just to this moment, but everything else you guys decide as well,” Bennett told council.