Recreation center debate burns time, calories

If watching delay, inconsistency and contradiction were forms of exercise, the folks in the Time Check neighborhood wouldn’t need a recreation center. They’d already be in great shape.

On Tuesday, the City Council had a video conference with FEMA officials in Kansas City, who have denied the city’s bid to put a $3 million replacement for the flooded Time Check center just a sandbag’s throw from its old location. Council members made a forceful pitch, but the stone-faced FEMA-crats staring back showed no sign of relenting.

If it wasn’t for the years lost by neighborhood kids, seniors and disabled folks who could have used a recreation center, this saga might be a knee-slapper.

At one point, in 2011, according to the city’s flood recovery chief Joe O’Hern, FEMA told Cedar Rapids the center was not eligible for relocation. The city actually appealed that ruling, hoping to rebuild elsewhere. Next came two site-selection efforts, one of which yielded an unpopular plan for putting the center in Ellis Park. Time passed.

The council eventually voted 9-0 to put the center near its original spot, hoping to boost neighborhood redevelopment. Now, FEMA says no way, it has to be relocated if the city wants $2.5 million from the feds to help build it.

“We can’t continue in this country to develop in flood plains,” said Bob Bissell, regional mitigation director for FEMA, insisting the flood risk is too great to put the center in the 100-year flood plain, even if elevated.

Yeah, he’s right, of course. It’s only too bad that the rest of the federal government doesn’t feel that way. The Army Corps of Engineers says the risk of significant flood damage on the west side is so low that it’s not even worth protecting. Over on the east side, the feds had no qualms about building a massive courthouse in the flood plain, because it’s elevated.

So it’s no surprise that folks in Time Check, watching the east-side building boom, would think they could, at least, have their rec center back in the neighborhood. Government at various levels have allowed so much redevelopment in the flood zone. Now a line in the muck is being drawn at this project. I can understand their frustration.

"Instead of destruction, I want construction," Council member Don Karr said before Tuesday's meeting. I get the feeling Karr is not willing to let the issue go anytime soon.

Council members passionately defended their plan. And they could still buck FEMA and build the center where they like with local dollars. Trouble is, they’ve already spent so much already on so rebuilding and replacing so many city facilities that finding any dollars now would be difficult, if not impossible. Otherwise, it’s on to site search No. 3. A charm, perhaps.

And the neighborhood watches more governmental wrangling. Really gets the blood flowing.

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