SOUTH SIOUX CITY -- The idea seemed so simple, yet it hadn't really dawned on anyone at LiteForm Technologies prior to last year's flooding.
Why not employ the company's use of concrete-filled forms to quickly pour a temporary concrete levee to help protect South Sioux City from Missouri River flood waters?
That's just what happened as the city scrambled to protect itself. In addition to temporary earthen levees, the city put in a half-mile wall, built using LiteForm technology along Golf Course Road in the Covington Links Golf Course. It took only hours to pour the concrete, reinforced with steel bars, compared with the days it can take to build earthen levees.
LiteForm president and CEO Pat Boeshart said it opened his eyes to a new possibility that his company could expand into flood protection using the same technology it has perfected for home construction.
"They go in place so fast. We did just under half a mile in six hours," Boeshart said. "This concept is so straightforward and practical."
LiteForm has begun working with Nebraska state officials to get the technology approved for disaster use by the Federal Emergency Management Administration, or FEMA. If approved, LiteForm and other companies that use similar technology could put it to use during floods to protect towns, roads, infrastructure and individual homes. Had its potential for flood protection been realized prior to last year, Boeshart said, it could have been employed up and down the Missouri River to protect homes and farmsteads.
"It would be technology that would be available throughout the country," Boeshart said. "It has tremendous, tremendous potential."
Perhaps the biggest advantage, he said, is that a LiteForm levee can be built faster, and cheaper, than earthen levees. The half-mile LiteForm levee built in South Sioux City was done at a cost of $60,000. A 1.25-mile temporary earthen levee built in South Sioux City cost $1.6 million, Boeshart said.
Time is of the essence when preparing for a flood. Boeshart said road departments could easily install the concrete walls along highways and avoid the time needed to close a road while current flood-protection measures such as aggregate-filled bags are put in place. Boeshart said U.S. Highway 30 between Missouri Valley, Iowa, and Blair, Neb., would have been a perfect place to use the LiteForm technology. It could have drastically cut the time that the highway was closed while road crews put the big bags in place.
And once the flood waters have receded, cleanup is much faster. The LiteForm sections can be poured with hooks in them so that a front-end loader can attach chains to pull them up and place them on a truck to be hauled away. The sections can be stored and used again during future high-water events. Or, in the case of the South Sioux City wall, taken to a local blacktop plant, where the sections are now being used as barriers to keep piles of aggregate separated.
"Unlike some of the levees built and torn down, these had a second life," Boeshart said.
Each section weighs 12,000 pounds, is 4 feet high and 22 feet long with 3-foot offsets at each end. The walls can be built anywhere, on any surface, Boeshart said. If needed, another layer can be poured on top. They can be used throughout the country because ready-mix concrete is readily available just about everywhere.
Since its beginning in 1986, LiteForm has become well-known for its insulated concrete form walls and hardened concrete buildings designed to withstand tornadoes and hurricanes. About 10 years ago, LiteForm filled its forms with sand to help protect homes threatened by lake flooding in Watertown, S.D., but the connection wasn't made to use concrete sections for flood protection. Now, with experience gained from last summer, Boeshart said the potential is exciting and, down the road, could lead to expansion and job creation for LiteForm.
The new venture comes at a perfect time. The home construction industry has suffered recently as building slowed during the economic downturn.
"All of us are looking at ways to expand our applications," Boeshart said.
It looks as though LiteForm has found one of those ways. And it's particularly gratifying to know that it has the potential to save property and even lives, Boeshart said.
"It's very rewarding," he said.