Government

D.C. trip breeds new optimism for federal aid in Cedar Rapids flood protection

Hart, Pomeranz, Charipar make case to federal officials

(File photo) Mayor Brad Hart speaks at the annual State of the City address, hosted by the League of Women Voters, at the DoubleTree by Hilton in Cedar Rapids on Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2018. Hart gave his first address as mayor of Cedar Rapids and spoke about development goals for the coming year, including keeping flood protection a top priority. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
(File photo) Mayor Brad Hart speaks at the annual State of the City address, hosted by the League of Women Voters, at the DoubleTree by Hilton in Cedar Rapids on Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2018. Hart gave his first address as mayor of Cedar Rapids and spoke about development goals for the coming year, including keeping flood protection a top priority. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — A small delegation of Cedar Rapids officials returned home from a short trip to Washington, D.C., last week with renewed optimism that federal aid for flood protection is on the horizon.

A year and a half ago, Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, cast doubt on whether federal money would ever come — a possibility city officials internally were bracing for. But recently, several things have lined up for Cedar Rapids. This includes a heavy push from Iowa’s congressional delegation, President Donald Trump $1.5 trillion infrastructure proposal and the 10-year anniversary of the 2008 flood.

“It just feels like everybody is working toward the same goal of getting federal funding,” Cedar Rapids Mayor Brad Hart said.

Hart, City Manager Jeff Pomeranz and Angie Charipar, assistant to the city manager who specializes in governmental affairs, made the Wednesday-to-Friday trip as part of an annual lobbying effort. They met with Republicans Sen. Joni Ernst and Rep. Rod Blum, an aide for Grassley, a half-dozen White House staffers and an official from the Office of Management and Budget.

Hart said he received two key pieces of information.

A White House official told him the Cedar Rapids project was a priority and called it a “perfect project” for Trump’s infrastructure plan.

A few weeks ago, Hart was summoned to the White House to meet with Trump, Cabinet members and his senior team as Trump rolled out his infrastructure plan, which includes $50 billion earmarked for rural state projects. The Cedar Rapids flood protection project was seen as an example of what could qualify, although no guarantees were given then or now.

Secondly, Hart said he was told changes are forthcoming to the benefit-cost ratio used by the Army Corps of Engineers to fund projects. The benefit-cost ratio is seen by local officials as favoring coastal cities with higher property values, causing Cedar Rapids to never score well.

“They fully expect that is going to change,” Hart said.

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Hart noted he emphasized the local, state and private funding already in place for flood protection.

Pomeranz said he too left with a far more positive impression than during previous trips to D.C. He said D.C. officials are well aware of Cedar Rapids issues with flooding, and awareness is a key hurdle to funding.

It felt different this time, like “we are going to help you get this done,” he said.

“It was so positive and helpful and encouraging,” he added.

Cedar Rapids has been counting on at least $78 million to help pay for a $750 million flood control system, which would include a series of pumps, levees, walls and gates on both sides of the Cedar River through downtown.

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

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