Cedar Rapids expects Cedar River crest near 20 feet Saturday

Four of river's highest crests in Cedar Rapids have come since 1993

City leaders say the city is ready to take on the projected 20-foot flood crest — the second highest in the city since 1929 and fourth highest of all time — when it is forecast to arrive on Saturday evening.

"There may be isolated cases of (problems), but I'm reasonably confident that we will be able to go through a crest of 20 feet," Craig Hanson, the city's public works maintenance manager, said last night.

In the city's June 2008 flood disaster, the river climbed to 31.12 feet, more than 11 feet above the previous record and the crest that is expected now.

Mayor Ron Corbett last night said the city was doing all it could to prevent river water from backing through storm sewer outlets into streets and to pump water back into the river at low-lying areas.

"Certainly, it's a little unnerving, and people are concerned," the mayor said. "But we have all hands on deck and should be able to contain the water at the current projected crest."

Corbett noted the high water is coming just as the city prepares to commemorate the five-year anniversary of the 2008 flood with a series of activities, including today's ribbon-cutting at the city's new convention center and renovated hotel and arena.

He said Rep. Bruce Braley, D-Waterloo, is slated to be in Cedar Rapids on Saturday, and he said the current flood emergency will point out to Braley the need for Congress to fund flood protection for the city. The U.S. Senate has passed a flood-protection bill, but the House has not yet.

On Thursday morning, the National Weather Service called for the Cedar River at Cedar Rapids to reach 18.1 feet, but late Thursday morning, the height of the forecast crest jumped to 19.8 feet. Last night it went to 19.9 feet. The projections take into account forecast rain 24 hours into the future, according to the National Weather Service.

Last night, the city's Hanson said city police officers and firefighters would ask residents on Ellis Road near Edgewood Road NW to leave their homes early Friday when the river is slated to reach about 18 feet and force the closing of Edgewood Road at Ellis Road and Ellis Boulevard NW.

Ellis Boulevard NW, Otis Road SE, Old River Road SW and Ely Road SW were among roads closed to floodwater on Thursday, he said.

Hanson said a late afternoon downpour on the north side of Cedar Rapids brought about an inch of rain, not the two to three inches that were feared, and as a result, he did not expect to a spike in the 19.8-foot crest forecast.

Hanson said the late afternoon rain temporarily flooded streets in low-lying areas, but he said the city's new pumping strategy in New Bohemia cleared the water faster than in the past.

Earlier Thursday in New Bohemia, furniture maker John Schwartzkopf was carrying a bunch of historic dates and previously high river levels in his head, and, by his math, he said he'd probably be fine at his first floor spot in the Cherry Building, 329 10th St. SE.

The city's historic flood of June 2008 sent about seven feet of water into Schwartzkopf's spot in the Cherry Building. However, the city's memorable flood of 1993, in which the river reached a level just below the current expected crest of 19.8 feet, didn't impact the Cherry Building, he said.

"Seeing all this happen, might get them moving on things," Schwartzkopf said about the current high river level and the city's still-unrealized plans for a flood protection system to keep the river at bay.

City Council member Monica Vernon on Thursday said the river's fast rise on Thursday was "a huge reminder" of the city's $7 billion flood disaster in 2008 and what the city yet needs to do to protect itself against flooding.

The city's downtown, which was heavily damaged in the 2008 flood along with the neighborhoods along the river, is protected against flood water to about the 22.5 foot level, the city's Hanson said.

However, he said the lowest spot in the heart of New Bohemia south of downtown starts to take on river water at between the 18- and 19-foot river level. That's as long as the city's sewer system and flood pumps perform as expected, he added.

As a result on Thursday, nerves were frayed at the New Bo City Market, in the 1100 block of Third Street SE in New Bohemia, where Kristie Wetjen, the market's director, said a river level of 18.37 feet could put water on the floor of the market. Wetjen led a noontime meeting Thursday of permanent market vendors, who decided to move equipment and food out of the building or elevate it in the building.

"Not a single one," Wetjen said when asked if any of the vendors wanted to stay and see the eight-month-old market open for its usual Thursday evening hours.

"You have all these new businesses that are in their infancy, and we have this sense of responsibility for them," she said.

Jerry Gillon, owner of Betty and Bobo's Better Breads in the market, was baking bread at noon on Thursday, preparing for the market's Thursday evening business when the vendors decided not to open.

Meanwhile, Lorrie Beaman, owner of Pappardelle's Pasta in the market, was leasing a refrigerated semi-truck to store her frozen food while the market rides out any possible flooding.

Across the street, Jon Jelinek, owner of the Parlor City Pub & Eatery and several other New Bohemia commercial properties, was busy at midday Thursday putting on siding on his latest storefront property.

"I'm not going to get too excited," said Jelinek, who figured he'd put sandbags by his doors to keep any water out.

His daughter-in-law, Stephanie Jelinek, said Parlor City was going to keep its front door propped open for now to make sure customers knew they were open for business.

Other stores in New Bohemia were making flood preparations last night.

In the 1993 flood, water was in the streets in New Bohemia, not the buildings, Jon Jelinek said.

New Bohemia is a historic district on the National Register of Historic Places that has seen a flowering since the 2008 flood despite that fact that it sits in the 100-year flood plain. In fact, the City Council obtained special permission from the state and federal governments to permit building in historic districts on newly vacant lots where properties were bought out and demolished in the city's flood recovery buyout program.

Nonetheless, the New Bohemia arts and entertainment district's place in the 100-year flood plain has kept it in harm's way.

The city, Jon Jelinek said, needs to continue to push for a new flood protection system, even if the Army Corps of Engineers is supporting protection only for the east side of the Cedar River at Cedar Rapids in a system that would safeguard New Bohemia.

Just because flood protection comes to one side of the river first doesn't mean you don't build it, he said.

Jennifer Pruden, executive director of the Czech Village/New Bohemia Main Street District, on Thursday said most the merchants in Czech Village across the Cedar River from New Bohemia were thinking that a 1993-like flood would not impact their stores. But the flood disaster of 2008 was on people's minds, she said.

"I wasn't here in the 2008 flood so I don't know everything that happened," Pruden said. "But I can read fear on people's faces because they're remembering about 2008."

New Bohemia seemed most at risk of flooding on Thursday, but the city was taking steps all along the river to protect against the river.

Giant dump trucks also were hauling dirt to the Cargill plant downstream from downtown to build a temporary berm to protect the riverfront plant.

Late Thursday afternoon, the Linn County Board of Supervisors met to discuss the rising Cedar River.

County officials did not expect water at the current forecast level to impact the Linn County Courthouse or the Linn County Jail on May's Island.

John Harris, chairman of the Board of Supervisors and a Palo resident, said residents of Palo, which was hit hard by the 2008 flood, were watching the river level there climb. He said most of the homes in Palo most at risk of flooding were bought out after the 2008 flood.


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