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Corps outlines east-side flood protection system

$104 million plan does not make room in its budget for removable flood walls

Ray Holder of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, (right) talks with U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Realty Specialist Ron Silver about how the bike trial fits into flood protection plans during a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers open house for the Cedar River, Cedar Rapids, Iowa Flood Risk Management Project at the African American Museum of Iowa on Wednesday, Nov. 16, 2011, in southeast Cedar Rapids, Iowa. (SourceMedia Group News/Jim Slosiarek)
Ray Holder of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, (right) talks with U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Realty Specialist Ron Silver about how the bike trial fits into flood protection plans during a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers open house for the Cedar River, Cedar Rapids, Iowa Flood Risk Management Project at the African American Museum of Iowa on Wednesday, Nov. 16, 2011, in southeast Cedar Rapids, Iowa. (SourceMedia Group News/Jim Slosiarek)

CEDAR RAPIDS — A couple hundred people turned out Wednesday night at two public forums to see what the Army Corps of Engineers plans to do to protect the east side of the Cedar River from a 2008-like flood.

Engineers from the Corps’ Rock Island, Ill., district office presented an east-side flood-protection system in four sections or “reaches.” The first section is above Interstate 380 at the Quaker Co. plant and features mostly permanent flood walls. A downtown section features removable flood walls, while a section from Eighth Avenue SE past the former Sinclair site would use earthen levees. A lower section would feature a permanent flood wall at the Cargill plant.

The Corps’ presentations at the African American Museum of Iowa featured three styles of removable flood wall. The Corps’ project manager, Tom Heinold, said all three styles may easily be used in various spots throughout downtown.

Two of the three styles require machinery to put in place. Heinold said the stretch of river from the Second Avenue Bridge to the Great America Building probably doesn’t have enough room for heavy equipment at the time of a flood.

The flood wall system would be built about 15 feet behind the existing concrete river wall, which in many sections is nearly 100 years old, Corps engineer Kirk Sunderman explained.

The Corps’ no-frills, $104-million plan does not make room in its budget for removable flood walls, which can cost two to three times the amount of permanent flood walls and six to nine times the cost of an earthen levee, Heinold said.

However, city officials include removable flood walls in the city’s own “preferred” flood protection plan, which also calls for protection on both sides of the river.

Heinold said federal funds could be available over and above the federal share of the $104 million project cost to help pay for removable walls.

The big challenge for the Corps is to see if it is feasible to install a system of removable walls in as large a section as city officials want — about 3,000 feet from First Avenue to about Seventh Avenue. Usually, sections of removable wall are put in place to protect areas just hundreds of feet in length, Heinold said.

Heinold said he had not heard and did not anticipate many questions about purchasing property for the new flood protection system because the city owns most of the property in question. The Corps will put a value on city property and then credit it to the 35 percent share of the cost not covered by federal funds.

Heinold said he will be back in December to make a public presentation to the Cedar Rapids City Council, which will be asked to approve the Corps’ alignment for the flood protection system.

Congress must first authorize a project and then appropriate money for it, and to date, Congress has authorized just the $12 million pre-construction engineering and design work. Only $2.8 million has been appropriated for the actual construction.

In the short run, Heinold said he will be looking to see if next year’s presidential and Congressional budgets include funding to complete the rest of the pre-construction work, of which the city of Cedar Rapids must pay 25 percent.

The city has provided $800,000 to $900,000 for the pre-construction work and is expected to provide another $2 million to allow the work to continue through 2012.

Congress must first authorize construction and then appropriate money for it. Construction can start two years after authorization if money is forthcoming, and the project would take three years, Heinold said.

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