City looks for solutions to Turkey Island campsites

May 6—OTTUMWA — City of Ottumwa officials want direction on how to proceed with illegal campsites at Turkey Island, which has no roadway leading to it.

Director of community development Zach Simonson noted a complaint from the Ottumwa Police Department and after building and code enforcement staff investigated, it was found there were tents, tarp shelters, bicycles, trash and debris.

Simonson said in a staff summary to the city council members ahead of Tuesday's meeting at Bridge View Center that the department wants direction on how to proceed, and that the city will likely be on the hook for additional expense for cleanup of the area where the campsites are located.

"What staff is requesting is direction on cleaning up the debris and direction on future campsite cleanups," he said.

The city has a contract with J&J Mowing to do cleanups and mowing, billed by the amount of time it takes to complete the task. Simonson said J&J has estimated three or four days for the job on the city-owned property, with a cost between $7,500 and $10,000 plus landfill fees. Also, because access is limited, that would make the job more difficult.

Complicating the process is that the code enforcement department is already over budget when it comes to cleanup expenses by more than $30,000.

In his estimation, there are three options the city can take:

— No eviction of those camping on the island, and no cleanup. This appears the least-desirable option. Simonson said continuing the camp on the island, where there are no utilities or access for emergency vehicles would make it "only a matter of time before someone is seriously hurt, seriously ill or killed."

— Eviction without cleanup. The city could work with law enforcement and other entities to begin the eviction without a cleanup, though the city would incur costs if there is any redevelopment on the site.

— Eviction with cleanup. This is the recommended option and would place those on the island in safer living conditions through the Rolling Hills Coalition. However, Simonson believed eventually unauthorized inhabitation the island would continue.

In other business:

— The council will take up two agenda items regarding a potential infill development. Bloomfield Acres LLC is seeking Workforce Housing Tax Credits through the Iowa Economic Development Authority to build on 30 lots in Ottumwa. The city has a list of lots available, and would sell to the firm for $125 apiece, and then would pay $500 for abstracts for each property. The firm is looking to help fill the "missing middle," which is market-rate, single-family and duplex-style housing that are affordable.

The first item on the agenda is a resolution of support from the city to seek the tax credits. The second item will set a public hearing for May 21 for the agreement to purchase the lots.

— The council will review the capital improvement projects and estimates to be included in the next bonding cycle. Because the city's financial software cost less than originally estimated, the costs of the projects would be $6.7 million.

The meeting begins at 5:30 p.m. at the Bridge View Center, and will be preceded by a board of health meetings with six properties up for condemnation and demolition.

— Chad Drury can be reached at, and on Twitter @ChadDrury