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Linn County prepared for the worst, got a break on May's Island flooding

Some barriers could come down as soon as Wednesday

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CEDAR RAPIDS — Standing on May’s Island, home to Linn County’s courthouse and jail, county supervisor Jim Houser watched the Cedar River, which crested that morning, rush by.

It’s the second highest the river has ever been. But thanks to quick action by county and city staff, the island was in good shape Tuesday.

“We’ve dodged the big bullet. We were prepared for the worst-case scenario, with a 25-and-a-half-foot crest, but we were blessed with only 22,” Houser said. “Mother Nature took care of us on that aspect.”

Linn County officials earlier this week evacuated operations from the island and closed down nearby county buildings. All told, the county’s courthouse, jail, Sheriff’s Office, Juvenile Justice building and Jean Oxley Public Service Center were closed because of the flood.

Other than the dull roar of a nearby water pump — which was sending groundwater that was coming up due to the high water level back into the river — May’s Island was quiet and nearly empty.

In 2008, the courthouse subbasement filled and water reached to about one foot below the ceiling on the building’s first level. This time, less than an inch of water had seeped into the subbasement, which easily was being handled by a sump pump.

Supervisor Amy Johnson said she marveled at how quickly the county sprang into action last week when upstream rains projected the river to crest above 25 feet in Cedar Rapids.

“Every department fired on all cylinders, mobilized, made sure all county buildings were secured and really stepped up,” she said.

Houser said the county had used a total of 4,000 tons of sand to fill 4,500 feet of barriers in the effort.

Off the island, at the Sheriff’s Office, groundwater was seeping into the basement weight room. But crews were removing carpeting and had bored two holes into the floor to place sump pumps.

Sheriff Brian Gardner said it’s a minor inconvenience compared to what could have been.

“If we lose the carpet in one room and have to patch a couple holes, I’d figure ourselves pretty fortunate,” Gardner said.

Houser said work could begin as soon as Wednesday to begin bringing down some of the barriers near the Sheriff’s Office.

It might take a week or more until staff can return to the closed county buildings, which are inside the city’s evacuation zone.

“We’re just taking a breath, we’re all very relieved,” Johnson said on Tuesday. “We know there’s work ahead, but we’re just so happy that all the county’s work paid off.”

For all of The Gazette's Flood 2016 coverage, please visit our flood coverage center.


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