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Only on AP: Countless inland bridges being raised to prepare for climate change floods

Construction is underway on a piling of the Red Bridge pedestrian bridge over the Des Moines River in Des Moines, Iowa., March 28, 2017 A little more than a decade after it was restored, crews went back to the site with a crane to hoist the span more than 4 feet higher, at a cost of $3 million, after experts concluded that the river's flooding risk was double the previous estimates. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

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Des Moines News Editor Scott McFetridge was out on his daily run one morning when he discovered that a pedestrian bridge he often crossed was blocked off for reconstruction. He was mystified. Why did a fancy bridge that had been rehabilitated only recently need another overhaul?

The answer put him onto a fascinating story.

This Iowa bridge, and countless others far from the coasts, had to be raised because higher river levels expected from more rain caused by climate change might inundate them. New bridges and old bridges, major multi-lane spans and small rural ones, were in danger.

Cities and counties were getting the bad news in new government flood maps and wrestling over what to do. In not a few cases, this was happening in states where many in government question the validity of climate change.

The federal agencies engaged with the problem didn’t want to talk about it – perhaps because of the questions raised about climate change.

McFetridge set out to report a straightforward piece. But it turned out to be much more difficult than expected. No one keeps track of bridges being made higher. And the federal agencies engaged with the problem, the Corps of Engineers and FEMA, didn’t want to talk about it – perhaps because of the uncomfortable questions raised about the impact of climate change. Officials ignored repeated phone calls and emails about possible data, costs or cities affected.

So McFetridge collected examples of bridge-boosting himself, calling city halls in a handful of states, doing internet searches and finding experts.

Eventually, he came up with more than 20 examples and an estimate that there are hundreds if not thousands more. And each example was accompanied by a pricetag of millions.

McFetridge’s story moves the climate change issue away from the usual coastal areas.

McFetridge’s story carried an “Only an AP” designation. It takes the climate change issue away from the usual coastal areas to the inland cities where many would least expect it.

Newspapers,television stations and websites from coast to coast used the story and photos,contributed by colleagues throughout the Midwest led to bridges by McFetridge’s reporting.

For discovering something that was in plain sight but no one had noticed, McFetridge wins this week’s $300 Best of the States prize.

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