Cedar Rapids flood response was a win

HESCO flood barriers filled with sand line the East bank of the Cedar River in Cedar Rapids on Monday, Sept. 26, 2016. (Adam Wesley/The Gazette)
HESCO flood barriers filled with sand line the East bank of the Cedar River in Cedar Rapids on Monday, Sept. 26, 2016. (Adam Wesley/The Gazette)

So Cedar Rapids weathered the Cedar River’s latest surge. This time, the preparation, not the flood, was “epic.”

“We won this time,” said Mayor Ron Corbett Wednesday morning, recalling that Cedar Rapids “got skunked” in its last big matchup with the river in 2008.

“The score is now River 1, City 1,” Corbett said.

Now, I know complaining about the city and its decisions is a cherished pastime around these parts. I doubt that will change, a fact which will keep me in business.

But the city’s response to the dire threat of another Cedar River invasion is a remarkable achievement. In terms of municipal government performance, I can’t think of a parallel in my range of experience. Planners planned. Leaders led. A community mobilized. And it all came together just in time to save the heart of a city from destruction and muck.

I’m not saying you have to, from now on, smile when you hit a pothole, dance a jig when leaf pickup is delayed, celebrate the closure of Second Avenue or write a loving ode to that public library you dubbed the Taj Mahal.

I’m saying the city now deserves our praise. Heck, I’ll even promise not to complain next time the city council raises City Manager Jeff Pomeranz’s pay without explanation. The explanation will be pretty clear this time around.

The city, its leaders, its top managers and employees in several departments rose to the occasion when their citizens needed them most. The Great Wall of Hope it Holds held, and then some. Police and firefighters kept the evacuation zone safe without major incidents. Communications operations did a fine job of keeping citizens and media informed.


Was it a community effort? Undoubtedly. The city, as Pomeranz and the mayor have said repeatedly, couldn’t have done it alone. Contractors played a massive role in constructing nearly 10 miles of HESCO barriers. Volunteers from all over filled 250,000 sandbags and did countless good deeds for threatened homes and businesses. The Army Corps of Engineers may take heat around here, but this week they helped make sure we didn’t take on more water.

Was it perfect? Nope. Just ask a handful of businesses on the wet side of the HESCO wall at the south end of New Bo. The city says leaving some without protection was necessary to protect the whole neighborhood, but I hope those businesses get the help they need in the days ahead.

The flood exacted costs. Heavy costs for some. But it could have been so much worse.

Was there some luck? Yep. Heavy rain fell at the far north end of the watershed, giving the city enough time to prepare and execute its plan. The skies cooperated.

And, yet, the test is not over. The Cedar will remain at major flood stage until sometime Friday. Water remains a big problem close to the river. City officials must still prepare for allowing folks to return to their homes and businesses. Roads must be reopened and cleanup operations are ahead. Volunteers will now be needed to put the city back together.

But go ahead, appreciate the win. Be proud of the effort. Also, be prepared to do it all again.

“There’ll be a rematch,” Corbett said.

l Comments: (319) 398-8452; todd.dorman@thegazette.com



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