Epic Rebirth

How to pay for permanent flood protection?

Cedar Rapids has spent millions, but it still needs many millions more

Stephen Mally/The Gazette 

A sidewalk runs atop the Sinclair levee in southeast Cedar Rapids, where a new pump station and detention basin were added in the city's first permanent flood control project. The work was completed last fall, and shows how the city is pairing protection with an ancillary benefit, such as the pedestrian and bicycle path atop the levee. The levee protects a portion of the NewBo district from a flood of up to 20 feet.
Stephen Mally/The Gazette A sidewalk runs atop the Sinclair levee in southeast Cedar Rapids, where a new pump station and detention basin were added in the city's first permanent flood control project. The work was completed last fall, and shows how the city is pairing protection with an ancillary benefit, such as the pedestrian and bicycle path atop the levee. The levee protects a portion of the NewBo district from a flood of up to 20 feet.
/

CEDAR RAPIDS — The next two phases of the Cedar Rapids flood protection system are to begin late this summer, adding a level of protection near the Quaker Oats plant and Czech Village and continuing progress on a decadeslong, three-quarters-of-a-billion-dollars plan to shield the core of Cedar Rapids from flooding.

In Czech Village, construction crews are moving a gas line near the entrance to Mount Trashmore so work can begin on a levee. By 2020, a half-mile levee will extend from near the Mount Trashmore entrance to 16th Avenue SW, providing immediate protection for the area in the event of a river surge up to 19.5 feet.

In August, work on a 2,100-foot-long flood wall around the Quaker Oats plant just north of downtown is expected to begin, protecting a key industry in the city. WRH Inc. of Amana has a $14.2 million contract to complete that project by 2021.

A separate contract will be needed for a railroad closure gate, which is expected to be completed in the same time frame.

PROTECT, ENHANCE

A completed flood system is expected to strike two notes:

For example, the McGrath Amphitheatre is a levee and a music venue.

Levees are being topped with bike trails.

A new Eighth Avenue Bridge is expected to be a postcard-worthy design that will add to the aesthetic downtown, officials have said.

Under consideration: A pump station with an overlook deck or possibly a restaurant.

7 MILES LONG

When completed, possibly by 2035, the city’s flood control system should handle the water volume that rushed through the city in 2008, causing the Cedar to crest at 31.12 feet on June 13, by far the most severe event in recorded Cedar Rapids history.

The full flood control system would extend 7 miles and protect the east and west sides of the Cedar River through the core of the city.

THIS YEAR

Progress is being made this year on a few other projects tied to the flood system.

Design work is underway to replace the aging Eighth Avenue Bridge. The estimated $25 million investment will elevate the bridge over the flood control system, incorporating the flood wall into its footings and providing continuous access across the river in the event of another epic flood.

This undertaking probably isn’t going to begin until 2023.

A public plaza is expected to open this month in the Time Check neighborhood at O Avenue and Ellis Boulevard NW, with an archway into the neighborhood and a memorial paying tribute to all that was lost in this part of town.

Plans also are underway to establish Masaryk Park, which will feature monuments displaced by levee construction. This will be located along the levee in the New Bohemia District and completed in 2019.

Already finished this spring was the Lot 44 pump station in the riverside parking lot between Eighth Avenue and 12th Avenue SE. The station will help prevent flooding from underground utilities, a major problem in the 2016 flood.

A water detention basin providing a place to collect and hold water in the event of flooding also has been completed in the vicinity of the Sinclair levee.

PRIORITIES

The top flood control priority was the Sinclair levee, completed last fall and extending from the African American Museum of Iowa to the Alliant Energy substation. It will provide immediate protection to a portion of the NewBo district in the event the river elevates to 20 feet.

Much more work remains, and the flood control plan prioritizes remaining segments.

Certain factors could alter the order of construction, such as low areas first, availability of grant money and the ability to reduce interim protection, said Rob Davis, Cedar Rapids flood control manager.

The priorities in order:

l Czech Village levee: 2018-20.

l Quaker flood wall: 2018-21.

l Kingston Village: From Interstate 380 to the Eighth Avenue Bridge, 2020-25.

l Downtown: From I-380 to the Eighth Avenue Bridge, 2025 and beyond.

l Time Check: from Ellis Lane (north tie-in point) to I-380, 2025 and beyond.

l Cargill south: from the new Alliant Energy substation to the south tie-in point, 2025 and beyond.

l Ingredion: from the Eighth Avenue Bridge to the 12th Avenue Bridge, 2025 and beyond.

THE MONEY

Max Freund / The Gazette

So far, $61.2 million has been spent on the flood control system. Officials say they soon must devise a strategy to make up a $450 million funding gap to complete the city’s flood protection system.

The plan, as now envisioned, would cost $550 million in today’s dollars. That is expected to escalate to $750 million because of inflation if the plan takes until 2033 to 2035 to complete.

The funding picture, as now planned:

l $110 million: The city plans to issue bonds for this commitment, to be repaid with property taxes. The city has begun setting aside money each year to meet that commitment.

l $267 million: Cedar Rapids is eligible to keep up to $15 million per year in locally generated sales tax revenue to pay for flood control. The program authorized by the Iowa Flood Mitigation Board is called the growth reinvestment initiative.

l $78 million: It is hoped the federal government will provide this amount. The spending has been OK’d by Congress but never appropriated by the Army Corps of Engineers. City officials and federal representatives now say they believe the federal money will shake loose, despite years of getting passed over.

l $14 million: Smaller federal grants also have been acquired.

Among other funding options:

l Issuing bonds, with the city repaying the loan with property taxes.

l Lobbying the state to let Cedar Rapids keep more proceeds from the sales tax growth initiative.

l Asking Cedar Rapids voters to extend the 1 percent local-option sales tax to pay for flood protection.

l Cutting portions of the plan.

“Keeping on the ‘pay-as-you-go’ plan, at least 15 years remain,” Davis said. “But there are so many variables.”

l Comments: (319) 398-8310; brian.morelli@thegazette.com

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.

CONTINUE READING

Want to join the conversation?

Consider subscribing to TheGazette.com and participate in discussing the important issues to our community with other Gazette subscribers.

Already a Gazette or TheGazette.com subscriber? Just login here with your account email and password.

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.