CEDAR RAPIDS — They remember hauling sandbags. Standing in waist deep floodwater plugging leaks. Overnight shifts. Catnaps in cars.
Staff in the Cedar Rapids public works department took a moment to stop and reflect Wednesday evening following a whirlwind battle with the Cedar River. The 2016 flood — in which the Cedar River crested at just under 22 feet, the second highest in recorded history — consumed staff for more than a week beginning on Sept. 22.
“We just wanted to do anything we could to help,” said Cari Pauli, a traffic engineer who served as a leak spotter and barricade mover, among other jobs. “Every day was something different.”
To honor efforts of public works, the Southside Investment Board, which has many of the investors in the New Bohemia District, chipped in for a “thank you” party Wednesday evening at NewBo City Market, which officially reopens Thursday.
Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett explained the investment people have made to revitalize NewBo is a big reason they are so grateful the staff protected the area from flooding.
“You really saved their assets,” Corbett joked, accentuating the play on words. “The investors assets were protected thanks to what you did in public works.”
Workers, such as Jourdan Bolt, a program coordinator for public works, said they took on jobs far-flung from their daily routines. She worked in the incident command center, which was a nerve center for any critical issue during the flood. John Witt, another traffic engineer, coordinated the dozens of road closures working with police and public works staff to cordon off certain areas.
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Mary Oehler, a project administrator, patrolled on foot along the east bank and spotted with Pauli when water ran through sand-filled HESCO barriers near the old Smulekoff’s Building. Their job, when they spotted water, was to notify an inspector to judge the severity of the leak, and the inspector, if necessary, called in repair teams.
“It really was well organized,” Oehler said.
Jason Junk, a construction contract specialist, recalled a team of 10 working a 24-hour shift from Monday morning to Tuesday when the river crested at nearly 21.97 feet and leaks were most challenging. The inspectors and contractors worked together to hold back the water.
“The reason it went so well is because we work with these contractors on a daily basis,” Junk said.
Tim Weaver, who has been with the city for 28 years and works in streets, was on the job approximately 10 consecutive days of 12-hour, overnight shifts. He and Justin Linn, 34, another streets worker, recalled a “scary” moment standing in waist deep water holding back flooding behind the National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library.
“I’ve been through a few of them — ’93, ’08, and now this,” Weaver said. “But this year was a good one for us. There was a lot less damage.”
Dale Todd, president of the Southside board, said Jon Jelenik of Parlor City helped with food, NewBo City Market and Iowa Brewing Co. provided beverages and members of the investment board chipped in to cover the costs.
“We thought it was important to recognize the folks who were on the front line during this event,” Todd said. “Many had canceled vacations, missed family functions and went without sleep for several days. It is simply a small token of appreciation from the people whose livelihood they protected and saved.”
If You Go
What: Reopening of NewBo City Market
Where: 1100 Third St. SE, Cedar Rapids
When: 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday. The market’s regular hours are 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturdays and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sundays.
Details: The 2,400-square-foot space is home to 24 businesses.