Cedar Rapids pushes hydro plant funds to ramp

$12 million in FEMA funding for the hydroelectric plant will go towards a new ramp

Downtown buildings photographed early Friday, June 13, 2008, in southeast Cedar Rapids. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
Downtown buildings photographed early Friday, June 13, 2008, in southeast Cedar Rapids. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — This one might not sound like a victory for renewable energy, but the city says a new parking ramp makes more sense now than fixing the city’s flood-damaged hydroelectric plant at the base of the 5-in-1 bridge.

As a result, the City Council has decided to steer about $12 million in federal disaster dollars for the hydroelectric plant to pay for a new parking ramp.

Hydroelectric power counts as renewable energy, most motor vehicles don’t.

The broken hydroelectric plant will be cleaned out and mothballed instead of fixed with its ultimate future decided at some later time, Mayor Ron Corbett said.

The hydroelectric plant had been damaged and was not functioning at the time of the 2008 flood, a fact that prompted the Federal Emergency Management Agency to refuse to pay the city for flood damage to the facility. However, the city appealed the matter to FEMA headquarters in Washington, D.C., and in April, FEMA reversed its decision and agreed that the city had been “moving in the direction” of repairing the facility at the time of the flood.

Under FEMA rules, the city will give up 10 percent of the $13.8 million FEMA disaster award so it can use the funds for an “alternate” project other than the hydroelectric plant, Joe O’Hern, the city’s flood recovery and reinvestment director, said on Tuesday.

Corbett said using about $12 million of the award for the city’s new parking ramp in the 600 block of Second Street SE will mean the city will not have to take on debt for the ramp project.

The City Council indicated nearly two years ago that it did not intend to renovate the hydroelectric plant and, instead, wanted to use any disaster dollars that came to the city from the hydroelectric plant for an alternate use under FEMA rules.

On Tuesday at a special meeting, the council decided it wanted the FEMA funds for the Second Street SE parking ramp.

The council decision came in the form of a vote to set aside an earlier council decision to seek bids on the Second Street SE parking ramp project. The city must wait for FEMA approval to apply the money to an alternative project before it can proceed with the ramp, Rob Davis, the city’s engineering operations manager, explained to the council.

Davis said the city also will delay the start of construction of a parking ramp across First Avenue East from the city’s hotel and convention complex for a short time because it wants to use $1.2 million in other alternate project funding from FEMA for that project. That FEMA decision on the First Avenue ramp is expected in the near future, Davis said.

He said the First Avenue ramp project’s completion won’t be delayed, but the completion of the Second Street SE ramp likely will be delayed a few to several months. Both ramps had been expected to be completed in the summer of 2013.A story in The Gazette in 1998 about repairs to the dam and hydroelectric plant at the 5-in-1 bridge noted that the plant generated $477,000 in net revenue for the city in the fiscal year ending June 30, 1998. The amount was close to the projection made when the plant opened in 1986, but twice as much as the plant had ever generated in its best year up to then.

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