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Senate gives Cedar Rapids flood system a boost

Army Corps directed to prioritize project along with eight others

Cargill is protected by a temporary flood wall, seen in this aerial photo taken over Cedar Rapids on Sunday afternoon, Sept. 25, 2016. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Legislation directing the Army Corps of Engineers to prioritize work on a flood protection system for Cedar Rapids, among eight other water projects in the nation, received final approval late Friday from the U.S. Senate.

The U.S. House had passed the directive earlier this week.

Iowa’s congressional delegation has pushed to secure funding for Cedar Rapids’ $625 million system that hinges on obtaining federal funding.

According to the Army Corps, the city sustained $2.5 billion in damage and $2.5 billion in economic losses after the Cedar River crested at more than 31 feet in June 2008. In September, the river crested at nearly 22 feet, forcing the city to hastily erect a temporary barrier that warded off severe damage.

The city successfully lobbied to get $70 to $80 million authorized by Congress for the flood wall, but the money never has been allocated or released by the Army Corps, which uses a cost-benefit analysis to set priorities amid a huge backlog of requests.

“This year’s flood event proves that it would be wiser to build the permanent flood protection structure instead of building temporary emergency structures, which cost millions and lead to the federal government spending billions in emergency measures over time.” Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley said in a statement Saturday.

The action also directs the Corps to prioritize water control projects in Illinois and Louisiana.

Besides setting those priorities, the legislation authorizes studies of flood protection in Dubuque and the levees along the upper Mississippi and Illinois rivers.

As requested by Grassley and Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst, the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works will ask the Government Accountability Office to study the Corps’ methods for calculating the cost-benefit ratios.

“It should not be only urban centers or beach front property with high property values receiving federal assistance and the expertise of the Corps,” Grassley said.