116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS - Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett said Wednesday officials are bracing for the increasing possibility that new federal flood protection money, which once seemed locked in, will never arrive.
At stake could be $70 to $80 million for flood walls, levees and pump stations to protect low-lying areas from rising tides on the east bank of the Cedar River. Congress authorized $73 million in spending in 2014, but never appropriated the money.
'We are in serious risk of never being funded,” Mayor Ron Corbett said during his State of the City address.
The sentiment marks a transition for a city rocked by flooding in 2008 from hopeful waiting to wondering if it's time to plot a Plan B. Eight years later, Cedar Rapids still is recovering.
In the annual address, sponsored by the League of Women Voters, Corbett used an analogy of instant replay in baseball to reflect on recent controversial calls by the city, one still under review, and two critical calls yet to be made, including what to do about federal flood money.
The city faces a decision about how long to wait for federal money for flood recovery versus seeking alternative solutions - which could undermine efforts of getting the federal aid.
While authorized in the Water Resources Reform and Development Act, the Cedar Rapids project is measured against a variety of others around the country, which are prioritized on a cost-benefit ratio. With each passing year, the project cost increases with inflation, lowering the rank in the cost-benefit ratio. If the cost exceeds the value of the project, 'the project has no hope of being funded,” Corbett said.
The suite of flood protections needed is estimated at around $600 million, adjusted for inflation, over 20 years, which is how long it would likely take to build. This includes $267 million from the state, $110 million from Cedar Rapids and $73 million in federal money, leaving about $150 million unfunded.
Because of the federal funding uncertainty, the city has shifted gears from building the protection from north to south to a strategy focused on addressing the lowest areas first.
'Now our approach is to protect the most vulnerable areas first and, I hate to use the word, piecemeal the project as funds become available,” Corbett said.
This summer, Cedar Rapids plans to address one of the high priority areas by building a levee, pump and flood wall in the New Bohemia, Sinclair and Czech Village areas.
Rob Davis, the city's flood control manager, said these projects, which are on the east side of the river, are part of the bid for federal funding. The total east-side protection system from north of the Quaker Oats plant to south of the African-American Museum is estimated to cost $115 million - 65 percent federal (the $73 million) and 35 percent local.
Davis said starting the work may be an advantage with the federal government because it would reduce the amount sought and boost the cost-benefit ratio.
'We probably won't get the full amount, but we are not ready to say we are going to get zero either,” Davis said.
Corbett also gave his verdict on several others calls.
Calls confirmed, he said:
' Establishing the MedQuarter Regional Medical District. This included closing part of Second Avenue SE to build a new home for the Physicians' Clinic of Iowa, which at the time was considering moving to Hiawatha.
Among projects in that area are the Hall Perrine Cancer Center, the Tanager Place purchase and renovation of the old Kirkwood Learning Center and The History Center relocating to the old Turner Funeral Home.
' A heavy focus on rebuilding downtown. In less than 10 years, Cedar Rapids has built a new library, renovated Greene Square, encouraged private development such as the new CRST tower and the TrueNorth and United Fire Group expansions, and increased downtown housing options by 200 units. All the attention has helped keep the city alive well past 5 p.m., Corbett said, when downtown historically went dead.
' Forming an Arts, Culture, and Entertainment District, which includes Third Street SE from the convention center to NewBo. The focus on this area helped breath new life and creates a 'stroll district” between two sections of the city, Corbett said.
' Corbett said officials erred in placing a proposed 27-cent library levy to help pay for library operations on the ballot, which voters ultimately rejected. In hindsight, he said, the proposal could have asked for less or could have included a sunset.
' It's too soon to say whether Cedar Rapids got it right with a Police Community Action Team, which included hiring four officers and a sergeant to focus on crime, quality of life and neighborhoods rather than a more traditional officer role of responding to calls, Corbett said. The new team hit the streets Jan. 9.