$17 million flood wall planned around Quaker Oats

It's one of three city of Cedar Rapids priorities

Cedar Rapids plans to build the next key phase of its flood protection system around the Quaker Oats site. (Rendering from city of Cedar Rapids)
Cedar Rapids plans to build the next key phase of its flood protection system around the Quaker Oats site. (Rendering from city of Cedar Rapids)

CEDAR RAPIDS — The next major piece of flood protection in Cedar Rapids — a 2,150-foot wall up to 18 feet tall in places — was approved Tuesday by the City Council for the Quaker Oats site on the edge of downtown.

Construction will replace most of an existing sheet piling wall Quaker erected after the 2008 flood and span the same basic footprint. The new wall, which will be taller and eventually will offer protection to the 2008 flood level, will incorporate existing underground pilings and 2 feet of wall above ground, said Rob Davis, the city’s flood control manager.

“This is so much more than protecting Quaker Oats,” he said. “It’s the start of protecting downtown from the backside.”

The council unanimously approved the framework of the estimated $17 million project. The wall will span from just north of the Quaker Oats property along the east bank of the Cedar River to the edge of the parking lot near B Avenue NE.

The project also will upgrade two pump stations and relocate a 36-inch water main that supplies about 25 percent of the city’s water, Davis said. A federal economic development grant will pay for $1.7 million, or about half the cost of the water main relocation.

“This is an important project for our flood protection,” said Mayor Brad Hart, just before the vote, one of his first as the city’s new mayor.

The project is expected to begin in August and be complete in early 2021. Immediately afterward, a companion project to install flood gates on the Union Pacific tracks is expected to begin.

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That project, pegged at $3 million, should be complete by the end of 2021. The city and Union Pacific have discussed a scenario in which work is completed over four weekends to minimize disruption to Quaker operations, Davis said.

The council will be asked to approve the railroad portion separately.

Quaker representatives did not return messages seeking comment Tuesday, but Davis said the company — one of the signature industries in Cedar Rapids — is expected to maintain operations during the project.

Last fall, the council approved up to $340,000 worth of parking reimbursement connected to the Quaker wall. Construction will consume 110 spaces on the Quaker site. As part of the agreement, those employees will be relocated to lots under Interstate 380.

Staff for the DoubleTree Hotel who use those spots will be relocated to roofs of the Convention Center Ramp and Five Seasons Parkade.

Although the existing wall protects against a 100-year flood, Davis said it was important to upgrade it because a swollen Cedar River could back into the Quaker site and the downtown from upstream. Building that protection will take time and occur in several phases, he said.

Completing the Quaker section will get more complex in future phases, including possibly wrapping a wall around Cedar Lake, he said. The last phase is not likely to begin for years, he said.

An open house for residents to review and offer feedback on flood control initiatives is set for 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. Jan. 25 at the National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library, 1400 Inspiration Place SW.

The Quaker Oats-Northside industrial area is one of the three top priorities in the flood control system, Davis said. Among the other two, the Sinclair site is essentially complete, and the Czech Village system is underway, although its progress will depend on the cost of the Quaker project, he said.

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The full flood protection system of wall, levees, gates and pump stations is expected to cost more than $700 million. There is a gap of at least $200 million between how much money is secured and how much it will cost. Between $70 and $80 million in federal aid was authorized but has yet to be released.

l Comments: (319) 339-3177; brian.morelli@thegazette.com

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