Dubuque County planners hear input on wetland proposal at former Flexsteel site

Dubuque County officials pitching the county’s acceptance of wetland property to be donated by Flexsteel Industries shared what more they have learned about the site with a generally positive crowd Thursday.

Officials spoke with about 10 people during a public input session held at UAW Local 94 Hall in Dubuque. While Flexsteel has not yet made the donation official, the Dubuque County Conservation Board approved a nonbinding letter of intent to accept it.

The site in question consists of two parcels along the Heritage Trail — totaling 14 acres — adjacent to the former Flexsteel plant at 32nd and Jackson streets in Dubuque. The property currently is being assessed for possible contamination, which, if found, would need to be mitigated before the county would accept the property.

In the meantime, Dubuque County Conservation and partners have been gathering input into how the property could be used for conservation and recreation.

As currently planned, the property would be managed largely for its rare wetland habitat. Brian Preston, executive director of Dubuque County Conservation Board, visited the site recently and said it already is in good shape for that use.

“There’s a nice, active beaver lodge,” he said. “I’ve seen muskrats, a family of wood ducks. And we’ve seen sandhill cranes also utilizing the site. So we know it’s a good site based on them all using it.”

That lines up with how Dubuque resident Bob Walton said the rare marshland has been historically.

“Other than this, there are no cattail marshes around, actually,” he said. “I have birdwatcher records back in the 1950s and 1960s that show birds that are nowhere else in Iowa, almost. You have a decent wetland that deserves protecting.”

The county currently plans to improve the Heritage Trail experience as well, partly by removing an existing fence.

“Where the county portion of the trail meets West 32nd Street, you get down to a section where there’s a fence right on the edge of the pavement,” said Laura Carstens, senior planner for East Central Intergovernmental Association. “The fence should be separate for safety reasons.”

Trail improvements also may include constructing a parking lot with access to the Heritage Trail through the donated property. Dubuque resident Pat Brimeyer said that could make the site a destination for those with physical disabilities.

“Even on this trail, you can push somebody on a regular wheelchair and give them the access they deserve,” he said. “In your pitch, you could say ‘We’re not leaving anybody out.’”

Other parcels of the former Flexsteel site are not included in the donation proposal. The county does not yet know what will happen to them. But Iowa Rep. Chuck Isenhart, D-Dubuque, said accepting the current proposal would give conservation officials a foothold in the area in case they want to expand.

The public can provide input on the county conservation website and Facebook page. Carstens said a draft plan should be available in September.