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Encyclopedia Dubuque

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Affiliated with the Local History Network of the State Historical Society of Iowa, and the Iowa Museum Association.




BEE BRANCH

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Photo courtesy: Telegraph Herald (2013)
BEE BRANCH. Early maps of Dubuque indicated a creek called the Bee Branch following the present route of Kaufmann Avenue running easterly to the MISSISSIPPI RIVER. Concern about the Bee Branch occurred as early as 1864. A petition from Horatio W. SANFORD and others to change it course was received and filed by the city council. (1) A bridge across the creek was washed out in 1866 and a new bridge was requested of the council. (2) A flood in 1877 was enough to loosen wooden sidewalks which floated away from the area of the Bee Branch, "that eyesore to the people who reside upon or near its banks. (3) In 1877 a proposal was made to force the creek to flow north into the Maquoketa River. (4) Property owners along the proposed route including Thomas E. FRITH strenuously objected. (5) In September 1878, a flood of the Couler Valley did not bother many people:
   They were used to such things, the Bee Branch 
   water crowding that of Couler Creek so much 
   after heavy rains the latter overflows its banks. 
   However, not much damage was done Sunday because 
   other floods had left nothing in the valley to be 
   injured. (6)

In October 1878 the Dubuque Herald announced that "the prospect is bright for draining the Bee Branch so as to drain the land in the Couler Valley as far as the Maquoketa." The council committee had authorized the city attorney to arrange with the county attorney and the board of supervisors for the right-of-way. (7) The same year, a councilman suggested that the Bee Branch and Couler Creek be "arched" at a cost estimated at $100,000 into Foulhopper Lake on the north end of the city. The Dubuque Herald editorial writers asked what this would accomplish "other than to make an immense privy in a habitable part of town a mile or more long?" No suggestion, they reminded readers, had been made for getting rid of the waste carried off. (8) City Engineer Tschirgi had a plan made of the creek's three mile long drainage basin from the fair grounds to the Maquoketa River. It was reported that residents of the area were willing to donate "handsomely" toward a drainage project which now lay in the hands of the Board of Supervisors. (9)

In 1893 an appropriation of not more than $200 was made by the city council to the Committee on Streets for "improvements" to the creek. (10)

The feelings of the writers of the Dubuque Herald in 1878 had changed by 1894. A petition written by citizens along Couler Avenue asked the city council to divert the creek to the north. The newspaper, however, stated:

          The creek, unfortunately for the Couler Valley 
          residents, was there when they purchased their 
          property, and the residents north of them will
          be apt to raise an objection, that will be 
          sustained by law when it is attempted to run 
          the water off on them. (11)

In January 1898 the city council took up the idea of opening Milwaukee Avenue to furnish a water way. This was allow to flow north into the Maquoketa River. Property John Heim offered to dedicate the street which lay on his property and also to do the necessary grading in three years. The estimated cost of grading and improving the new street was estimated at $8,000. The cost of condemning property and building a water way north was estimated at $12,000. All the alderman except one favored the project. The city reserved the right to award the hauling to city teamsters and pay Heim only for taking out the earth and rock. (12)

The decision to establish a Bee Branch sewer was reached by the city council on August 7, 1899. (13)

In what would become a recurrent story through 2018, city officials visited the site of the Bee Branch sewer on June 16, 1900. They found that the contractor's claim that he was prevented from carrying on his work because of the Milwaukee Road was right. The sewer had to pass under the Milwaukee tracks. It was necessary for the company to install a culvert to meet the size of the sewer; the company refused unless paid $1,400 by the city. (14)

Then the railroad was sold. City officials and representatives of the CHICAGO GREAT WESTERN RAILROAD in 1902 tried to reach an agreement on the Bee Branch. The sewer had been completed from Sanford Avenue to Rhomberg Avenue and from Garfield Avenue "south as far as necessary." Between Garfield and Rhomberg lay property through which the sewer had never been constructed. The railroad wanted to construct the sewer because the area will be used for the laying of track and the sewer had to be more substantial than the way it was being built. The city agreed and was willing to give the railroad the amount of $200 which is what it would have paid for the work. The railroad agreed to this and was willing to start work as soon as the city built the sewer north from Sanford Avenue to 23rd Street. The city refused to do this because it did not have the $20,000 to pay for the project. (15)

In 1909 Mayor Henry A. SCHUNK signed a contract with Tibey & Sons to extend the sewer to the baseball park where it would end. At that point, $65,000 had been spent on the mile long sewer. (16) In 1913 the sewer was built north to 27th Street. (17) In 1915 bids were let for the construction of the sewer in Washington Street between between 27th and 28th streets. (18)

City officials found they had to watch the sewer for problems. In 1913 the KEY CITY GAS COMPANY constructed a line through the sewer in a manner that trapped debris and obstructed the flow of water. Company workmen were asked to reroute their line beneath the sewer. (19) The sewer became a popular place for dumping refuse. In 1920 a police officer was stationed in the area of 32nd Street to catch violators. (20) As more of the land was covered by impermeable materials such as concrete, less and less water could be absorbed into the ground. Increased runoff led to "ponding" on roadways and flooded basements.

In May, 1927 the city council toured the area served by the 17th Street storm sewer after storms had caused an estimated $20,000 in damage. City Manager C. E. Douglas reported that the city needed to clean all storm sewers and some of the sanitary sewers in the city. In addition, some sewers were declared to be too small. (21)

Federal programs during the GREAT DEPRESSION assisted in further construction. In 1936 some of the 360 men employed by the city through the Works Progress Administration were involved in extending the sewer toward the MISSISSIPPI RIVER. Work was expected to last through the summer of 1937. (22)

Covering the sewer continued in 1949. Bids were accepted for constructing a reinforced concrete cover slab over the Bee Branch sewer at Fifteenth and Sycamore streets. The slab was to extend from the present slab 360 feet in an easterly direction. (23)

In 1950 the city council announced an anti-flood plan for the city. Included in this was a sewer line to run parallel to the Bee Branch. It would begin at 30th Street and Central Avenue and run to 16th Street and Sycamore. The cost was estimated at $1.4 million. (24) In 1951 the city council changed its plan. It proposed developing a detention basin along West 32nd to relieve pressure on the Bee Branch sewer. The reason for the new plan was that estimates for the new sewer had risen to $2.5 million while the cost of the basin came in around $150,000. (25) Construction of a concrete cover for open sections of the sewer was ordered by the city council the same year. The estimated cost of $34,000 would result in a covered sewer from 28th to 30th streets and from Jackson Street to Lemon between 30th and 32nd streets. At Lemon Street, the concrete sewer was to be attached to the rock sewer. (26)

In 1958 fatty wastes and other sewage was temporarily diverted down the Bee Branch storm sewer. This emptied into the lower end of the LAKE PEOSTA channel. The situation was to be improved with the connection to the new Terminal Street lift station which would carry the wastes to the new SEWAGE treatment plant. (27)

In 1982 "The Recreation and Open Space Plan" written by the Department of Community Development and the Department of Parks and Recreation was presented to the city council. The report noted natural areas that should not be developed for practical or aesthetic reasons. The bluffs along the Bee Branch along West 32nd Street were mentioned. (28)

From 2001 through 2013 flooding along the buried Bee Branch occurred six times affecting thousands of properties. (29) In 2010 the watershed of this creek included all the land north of Kaufmann Avenue to the area of EISENHOWER ELEMENTARY SCHOOL.

Following a major storm in 1999, the city of Dubuque spent $275,000 for an engineering study called the Drainage Basin Master Plan (DBMP). Completed in the fall of 2001, the DBMP determined that approximately 1,150 homes and businesses were at risk of flood damage during heavy rains. Engineering studies indicated that to adequately confine the amount of runoff being experienced, culverts five times the size of those in use would need to be installed. (30)

The City of Dubuque’s Bee Branch Creek Restoration Project involved the phased construction of a 4,500-foot long open waterway from the 16th Street Detention Basin along the Mississippi River to COMISKEY PARK. The project's final design included an amphitheater, bike/hike trails, benches, bridges, lighting, and landscaping. To "daylight" the Bee Branch Creek to a form of its original condition would enhance neighborhoods, build on TOURISM, and improve the quality of life. This nearly $60 million project would reduce the risk of storm water flood damage to 1,155 properties in one of Dubuque’s oldest and most-challenged neighborhoods. Some water would always be present in the lowest level of the new waterway. When rains occurred, the water would rise to fill a flood zone that was planned to be large enough to reduce the chance of damage to residential property. (31)

In 2009 a combination of business, civic, and city leaders announced America's River III: Bee Branch Restoration and Gateway, an effort to create a park-like environment for the restoration project. A private financial commitment of more than $100,000 had been created through a partnership between the city and America's River Corporation. The City of Dubuque sought $200 million from Vision Iowa. This would be used to construct gazebos, overlooks, benches, historic lighting, trees, and connecting the HERITAGE TRAIL to bike and hiking paths on CHAPLAIN SCHMITT ISLAND. (32)

Construction of the first phase, the Lower Bee Branch Creek Restoration Project, started in September of 2010. Sustainability considerations were encouraged as homes were deconstructed rather than demolished and materials salvaged.

In March 2012 residents of Dubuque's North End were informed they would need to wait another year before the Bee Branch Creek Restoration Project would be completed. The estimated cost of $17.1 million in 2001 with 70 properties needing to be purchased had risen to $57 million with an estimated 100 properties likely to be acquired. (33)

The U. S. Environmental Protection Agency awarded the City of Dubuque a Land Use and Water Quality Workshop through the Building Blocks for Sustainable Communities program. The workshop was intended to provide technical assistance to the city in identifying land use strategies to protect water quality and manage storm-water and land use in the Bee Branch watershed. (34)

In 2014 one portion of the Bee Branch Restoration Project under budget was the creation of "green alleys." As part of the 20-year Bee Branch Watershed Flood Mitigation Project, the City planned reconstructing all 240 alleys in the Bee Branch Watershed with permeable pavement. (35) This was expected to reduce the amount of storm water runoff in the watershed by up to 80% and help protect 1,373 homes and businesses from flood damages. Green alleys would also replenish the groundwater and lessen the amount of pollutants entering the storm sewer system and ultimately the Mississippi River. Twenty-three green alley conversions were completed in 2014 with approximately 53 planned for 2015. (36) An estimated 15% of the project funding came from homeowner assessments. In 2014 the average assessment for all alley projects was $848.76.

Complications in acquiring railroad property under which the storm water channel would flow and the hope of a longer construction cycle leading to lower bids led the City to revise its completion schedule. Part of the complications arose due to dealing with changing railroad ownership. In 2007 when the negotiations began, the City was negotiating with the IC & E. The DM & E took over in 2008. In 2010 the City had to restart the process with the Canadian Pacific.

Work on the upper Bee Branch Creek restoration was scheduled to begin in the spring of 2015. In the first phase, crews were to "daylight" a 2,300-foot-portion of the underground storm sewer. They were also to construct vehicular bridges at Rhomberg Avenue and East 22nd Street, relocated underground utilities, install a multi-use trail and an amphitheater and build a new park and community orchard. The second phase of the project involved the installation of pipes under property owned by Canadian Pacific Railroad near Garfield Avenue. The work was part of the 20-year, $200 million Bee Branch Watershed Flood Mitigation Project. (37)

Construction work near E 22nd in November, 2015
Construction expected to begin in the spring of 2015 led to the removal of an estimated 22,000 dump trucks and the long-term closing of two downtown streets. (38) A portion of Rhomberg Avenue was closed for the installation of a bridge in mid-2015 and remained closed until the spring of 2016. East 24th was closed for about six months for the installation of culverts. The project dating back to 2005 was given needed financial support in 2014 when the city obtained $98.5 million in state tax incentives. (39)

In May 2015 it was announced that the North End flood-mitigation project would likely be significantly changed after the low bid for reconstruction came in $9.3 million above the engineer's estimate. Work had been completed on the lower Bee Branch. The construction from Garfield Avenue to East 24th was set to begin in June. City officials estimated the Upper Bee Branch would cost about $18.5 million. Only two bids were received. Portzen Construction offered the low bid of $27.8 million. (40)

On May 18, 2015 the council voted 6-1 to award the contract to Portzen Construction. Before the vote, City Manager Van Milligen unveiled a plan to award the bid without increased debt or raising storm water rates. The plan called for delaying several components of the multi-phased Bee Branch project including work on 50-70 of the 240 alleys planned for reconstruction. Van Milligen stated that delaying the timetable could result in the loss of $5.3 million in grant funding because of mandatory scheduling requirements. (41)

Work on the long-anticipated flood-mitigation project was scheduled to begin during the first week of June 2015. Children from six schools within a mile of the project received activity books and met with project leaders during assemblies to discuss safety. A video was prepared to share safety tips with JEFFERSON MIDDLE SCHOOL students. (42) As construction was nearing an end, piers were place along the corridor to provide places for emergency responders to anchor in case of a water rescue. Remote sensors and warning lights were installed to warn hikers and bikers when trails under Rhomberg Avenue and 22nd Street were impassable due to high water. Steps were constructed along the creek to make it easier for a person to climb out should they fall into the water. (43)

Although work actually began in early June, city and state officials held a ground-breaking ceremony on July 1, 2015. The area affected had experienced six presidential disaster declarations since 1999 due to flooding. In 2015 over half of the city's residents lived or worked within the 6.5-square mile watershed. (44)

On January 22, 2016 the U. S. Department of Housing and Urban Development announced that it awarded $31.5 million to the City of Dubuque to help homeowners in the Bee Branch watershed repair and flood-proof homes damaged during the flooding of 2011. An $8.4 million created the Bee Branch Healthy Homes Program which acquired dilapidated multi-unit homes and converted them to single family residences. This was planned to decrease the density of the neighborhoods, improve the appearance and livability of the property and reverse the 70% rental occupancy of the area when the city sold the homes back to low or moderate-income families. Another portion of the program called on the city contracting with an agency to serve as a "home advocate" helping homeowners with assistance ranging from unemployment to mental health support. (45) An estimated $9 million would be used toward an estimated $18 million project to construct a culvert under the railroad property southeast of Garfield Avenue. Plans called for $2.6 million to be used to build a storm sewer along West Locust Street from 17th Street toward Rosedale Avenue. An additional $11.5 million would be used to construct a storm sewer along Kaufmann Avenue to Central to Kane. The city planned to contribute $21.6 million in budgeted funds toward the three projects and $100,000 from the federal Community Block Development Grant program to create a micro-loan program for businesses in the area. (46)

The $219 million Bee Branch Mitigation Project was designed to handle the potential of over $500 million in future flood damage. The design led to a flood mitigation project with limestone features, orchards, play structures and bike paths.

Overview site. 2017
Channel. 2017
Trail map. 2017
In May, 2017 work on the 2,300-foot long corridor that began in 2015 was one million under budget and expected to be completed in late June or early July. The conversion of a century-old-underground storm sewer into a 150-foot wide storm-water channel allowed storm-water to drain more efficiently from the Upper Bee Branch to Lower Bee Branch Creek and 16th Street Detention Basin at a maximum velocity of approximately 5 miles per hour. (47)

Mayor Roy D. BUOL was awarded an Outstanding Achievement Award for the Bee Branch Watershed Flood Mitigation Project at the 2017 City Livability Awards.

One of the most visual parts of the Bee Branch Flood Mitigation Project opened to the public on July 19, 2017. The Bee Branch Creek Greenway was planned to function not only as a primary way to mitigate floods in that area, but also as a park open to the public. The park will be open 24 hours a day, with lights on from dusk until dawn. (48)

The installation of floating islands meant to clean the water before it flowed into the Mississippi was announced in August, 2017. Like man-made rafts for plants, the platforms made of recycled plastic water bottles came pre-drilled. Native plants are added which would grow roots one to three feet below the island. There were to be 14 islands from the 16th Street bridge to the Bee Branch pond. The two largest islands were 44 feet long. Anchored to stay in place, the islands needed some maintenance. Initially watering was to be done every other day. Once the plants grew, they would have to be occasionally trimmed. (49)

In October, 2017 Dubuque received an award for the Upper Bee Branch Creek Restoration Project. The Iowa Floodplain and Stormwater Management Association named it the 2017 Project of the Year. The award recognized people and projects that represented the best in the floodplain and STORM WATER MANAGEMENT industry. (50)

In September, 2018 the city council approved campaign materials for a year-long project to raise money for the entire project. In exchange for donating $100 for a brick paver to $1 million to name the Bee Branch Greenway, contributors could mark amenities along the creek with the names of people or businesses. The initial part of the campaign focused on small amenities--trees ($500), bike rest stations ($1,000), and benches ($5,000). Larger items included being a donor toward a bridge ($25,000) or a play area with slides ($50,000). The opportunity to donate was planned to extend indefinitely. (51)

City officials in 2019 appealed the Federal Emergency Management Agency's flood insurance rate maps released in May claiming that they did not show recent improvements in the watershed. The omissions left most of the downtown and North End under flood hazard categories requiring expensive flood insurance for property owners. City officials and members of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources had worked with FEMA to update the flood insurance rate maps when it was realized that the federal officials did not have current information on the projects that had been completed. Some of the suggestions were not accepted, but the city never received an explanation. If these areas had been accepted, people living in the area with federally backed mortgages would no longer have needed flood insurance. The savings could amount to over $3,000 on a home. (52)

The America's River III campaign established in September, 2018 reported in July, 2019 that $33,000 had been raised in donations. The total reflected the sponsorship of 33 engraved pavers, six tree plaques, three bench plaques, two bike rest stations, and one large naming opportunity for $10,000. City officials stated that the effort was planned to strengthen the bond between the project and the community that support and benefited from it. (53)

NOTE: For a video about the Upper Bee Branch groundbreaking, see: http://cityofdubuque.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=3&clip_id=3114 produced by the City of Dubuque.

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Sources:

1. "Common Council," Dubuque Democratic Herald, June 4, 1864, p. 4. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=A36e8EsbUSoC&dat=18640604&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

2. "City Council," Dubuque Herald, May 4, 1866, p. 4

3. "Heavy Rain Storm," Dubuque Herald, May 22 1877, p. 4

4. "Caught on the Fly," Dubuque Herald, July 11, 1877, p. 4. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=uh8FjILnQOkC&dat=18770711&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

5. "Caught on the Fly," Dubuque Herald, August 6, 1878, p. 4. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=uh8FjILnQOkC&dat=18780806&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

6. "Caught on the Fly," Dubuque Herald, October 1, 1878, p. 4. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=uh8FjILnQOkC&dat=18781001&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

7. "Caught on the Fly," Dubuque Herald, October 27, 1878, p. 4. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=uh8FjILnQOkC&dat=18781027&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

8. Editorial. Dubuque Herald, August 6, 1887, p. 2

9. "The Bee Branch," Dubuque Herald, September 25, 1878, p. 4

10. "Common Council," Dubuque Democratic Herald, November 6, 1893, p. 4. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=A36e8EsbUSoC&dat=18631106&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

11. "Want No More Floods," Dubuque Daily Herald, March 9, 1894, p. 4. Online:https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=_OG5zn83XeQC&dat=18940309&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

12. "To Stop Deluges," The Dubuque Herald January 20, 1898, p.8

13. "Bee Branch Settled," Dubuque Herald, August 24, 1899, p. 8

14. "Held Up By the Milwaukee," The Dubuque Herald, June 17, 1900, p. 8

15. "More Bee Branch," Dubuque Telegraph-Herald, November 21, 1902, p. 6

16. "Signs Bee Branch Contract," Telegraph Herald, April 11, 1909, p. 7

17. "Ald'M M'Laughlin Secures $1000 for Ball Park," Telegraph Herald, March 1, 1913, p. 2

18. "Notice to Sewer Contractors," Telegraph Herald, May 29, 1915, p. 7

19. "City's Ordinances May be Revised," Telegraph Herald, August 19 1913, p. 5

20. "Refuse Dumped into Bee Branch," Telegraph-Herald, August 3, 1920, p. 7

21. "Sewers Too Small, Council Informed," Telegraph-Herald, May 10, 1927, p. 9

22. "360 Employed on WPA Jobs," Telegraph Herald, March 21, 1937, p. 5

23. "Notice to Contractors of the Receipt of Proposals for the Construction of Reinforced Concrete Cover Slab," Telegraph Herald, September 1, 1949, p. 20

24. "City Launches Anti-Flood Plan," Telegraph Herald, August 8, 1950, p. 1

25. "Council Will Consider Plans for Detaining Basin Project," Telegraph Herald, August 19, 1951, p. 5

26. "Concrete Sewer to Cover Bee Branch," Telegraph Herald, November 8, 1925, p. 15

27. "Wastes in River on the Way Out," Telegraph Herald, November 26, 1958, p. 3

28. Hendricks, Mike. "City Report Backs Open Spaces, Telegraph Herald, July 12, 1982, p. 9

29. Carstens, Laura. "Building a Watershed Ethic Through the Bee Branch Creek Restoration Project," Julien's Journal, April 2013, p. 42

30. Ibid.

31. "Chronology," Telegraph Herald, January 1, 2010, p. 45

32. Carstens

33. Ibid., p. 43

34. Hesson, Ted. "A Hard Rain's Gonna Fall," National Journal, November 27, 2015, Online: http://www.nationaljournal.com/next-economy/solutions-bank/hard-rains-gonna-fall?mref=scroll

35. "Dubuque Receives 1000 Friends of Iowa 2014 Best Development Award," News Release. City of Dubuque, January 8, 2015, Online: http://www.cityofdubuque.org/CivicAlerts.aspx?AID=2625

36. "Work on Upper Bee Branch Restoration Project to Begin," Telegraph Herald, January 3, 2015, p. 5A

37. Jacobson, Ben. "Bee Branch A Huge Excavation Effort," Telegraph Herald, February 12, 2015, p. 1

38. Ibid., p. 10

39. Jacobson, Ben. "Bee Branch Bids Busting Budget," Telegraph Herald, May 16, 2015, p. 1

40. Montgomery, Jeff. "Council Approves Bee Branch Contract," Telegraph Herald, May 19, 2015, p. 1

41. Jacobson, Ben. "Bee Branch Construction Set to Begin." Telegraph Herald, June 1, 2015, p. 3A

42. Barton, Thomas J. and Kelly, Stephanie, "'Long Time Coming' for the North End Project," Telegraph Herald, July 2, 2015, p. 1

43. Barton, Thomas J. "Bee Branch: How it Works; What to Expect," Telegraph Herald, May 10, 2017, p. 1A

44. 365ink Magazine, February 23-March 8, 2017, p. 19

45. Barton, Thomas J. "Flood of Federal Money Pours In," Telegraph Herald," Telegraph Herald, January 23, 2016, p. 2A

46. Ibid.

47. Barton, "Bee Branch: How It Works..."

48. Hanson, Brad, "Bee Branch Creek Greenway Set to Open in Dubuque," KWWL.com. Online: http://www.kwwl.com/story/35921996/2017/7/19/bee-branch-creek-greenway-set-to-open-in-dubuque

49. Descorbeth, Shirley. Floating Islands Installed in Lower Bee Branch Creek in Dubuque KWWL.com Online: http://www.kwwl.com/story/36058425/2017/8/3/floating-islands-installed-in-lower-bee-branch-creek-in-dubuque

50. "Dubuque Receives Project of the Year Award for Upper Bee Branch Creek Restoration," KWWL.com. October 17, 2017, Online: http://www.kwwl.com/story/36616945/2017/10/17/dubuque-receives-project-of-the-year-award-for-upper-bee-branch-creek-restoration

51. Hinga, Allie, "City Offers Naming Opportunities Along Bee Branch Waterway," Telegraph Herald, September 6, 2018, p. 1A

52. Fisher, Benjamin, "City Appealing FEMA Flood Insurance Maps," Telegraph Herald, June 7, 2019, p. 1

53. Fisher, Benjamin, "City Raises $33,000 in Amenities Sponsorships Along Bee Branch, Telegraph Herald, July 9, 2019, p. 3A


Televised interview with Deron Muehring, Engineering Department.