Grassley not optimistic Cedar Rapids will get federal flood protection funds

'It seems to me the cost-benefit ratio has been more diffcult'

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CEDAR RAPIDS — Sen. Chuck Grassley isn’t optimistic that Cedar Rapids will ever see the $73 million in federal future flood protection money authorized by Congress.

Grassley, Iowa’s senior senator, told the Daybreak Rotary Club Friday that unless the rules are changed the federal part of the city’s planned $600 million project may never be appropriated.

Congress approved a citywide plan for future flood protection in Cedar Rapids back in 2014. But while Congress authorized spending up to $73-million dollars in federal money, lawmakers haven’t found the actual money for the city yet.

Current and future city and state dollars will cover about 60 percent of the price tag for the 20-year project. It’s the federal share that still is up in the air.

“What (the city) has got to do is keep working on Congress and if there is any chance of doing it, we’re going to help them do it,” Grassley said. “That’s about all I can say at this point.”

He did add that it’s not just him, “but other members of Congress are going to help wherever we can” to see that Cedar Rapids get its appropriation.

The hitch seems to be convincing the Army Corps of Engineers the cost of the project justifies the cost, Grassley said.

“But it hasn’t worked,” the Iowa Republican said. Over time, it seems to have become more difficult to make the case to funding the Cedar Rapids project. Grassley isn’t sure whether that’s due to the economy or rising construction costs, “but it seems to me the cost-benefit ratio has been more difficult as time has gone on.”

He doesn’t see that changing unless the rules are changed.

Part of the problem, as Grassley sees it, is the lack of earmarks, which were congressional provisions to fund specific projects, typically in a congressional member’s district.

“It was a political game of influential congressmen and senators … being in a position to get money for things that were justified or maybe not justified,” Grassley said. “So you had the bridge to nowhere in Alaska that people made fun of. So after the 2010 election the people sent a message they were sick and tired of earmarks.”

The number of earmarks grew from a few hundred 25 years ago to about 13,000 before Congress ended the practice.

Later, Grassley made clear he wasn’t arguing for a return to earmarks.

If they came back under the old rules where almost anything goes, absolutely not,” Grassley said. “It’s just raw, political power who gets what.”

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