116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — The city of Cedar Rapids is hoping for a $50 million boost to its construction of a $750 million permanent flood control system — if proposed federal legislation is signed into law.
Several steps and likely multiple years remain before any funding comes to fruition, but draft language in the 2022 Water Resources Development Act would unlock the funds for flood protection on the east side of the Cedar River — which would allow the city to accelerate work on other segments of the system.
The Water Resources Development Act is renewed every several years and includes projects such as the city’s flood control system. It’s the first step in the appropriations process for any Army Corps of Engineers project, Public Works Director Bob Hammond said.
U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst’s office was notified through the Environment and Public Works Committee, of which she is a member, that Cedar Rapids’ proposed language will be included in the draft legislation.
The language would reconcile the Army Corps’ flood mitigation project with the flood control system master plan adopted by the Cedar Rapids City Council, said Rob Davis, city flood control program manager.
“That would change authorization for the Army Corps to participate in funding of the full east-side system, not just what was envisioned in 2014,” Davis said. “ … This is just the first step of the city’s request to have the federal government participate financially in the full east-side system.”
West side protection
After the devastating flood of 2008, the Army Corps in 2011 approved a design for a flood control system protecting the east bank of the river. The money was included in the 2014 Water Resources Development Act.
The plan did not include flood protection on the Cedar River’s west bank because of the Army Corps’ cost-benefit threshold. The cost of adding westside flood control was greater than the value of the buildings it would protect, according to the formula.
Under the 2014 plan, the north end of the flood control system ended at the Interstate 380 interchange with Seventh and Eighth Streets NE. It did not go up to and around J Avenue NE, Davis said.
But the city’s plan for west-side protection requires a height increase in the Army Corps’ east-side plan to protect against a flood the magnitude of the 2008 flood, Davis said.
In addition, the city plan calls for another pump station at Cedar Lake — something that’s not in the Arm Corps’ plan.
Although Congress authorized construction of the city’s east-side flood control system in 2014, it wasn’t until 2018 — 10 years after the big flood — that federal lawmakers actually allocated the money.
Similarly, it could take several years for Cedar Rapids to see additional federal dollars for flood control.
If the Army Corps does pick up additional east-side costs, Davis said, that would free up local dollars to work on other segments.
The Army Corps has projects scheduled through 2026, Davis said, so there is opportunity between now and then to have more federal funding added.
He noted there could still be east-side work remaining if and when those appropriations are made, such as rail crossings upstream at Quaker Oats or downstream work at Cargill’s corn-processing plant.
“That’s why it was important to get (the proposed language) in now, not right before the project’s done,” Davis said.
Paying for it
Cedar Rapids has a 10-year bonding plan to pay for a portion of the overall flood control system, supported by 22-cent annual increases in the city’s property tax levy.
Overall, the city’s flood control system has secured $117 million from the Army Corps; $269 million in Iowa Flood Mitigation funds; $264 million in local funds; and $16 million in state and federal grants, according to the city’s fiscal 2021 report for the budget year that ended June 30, 2021.
That $666 million doesn’t include the $10.2 million the city in October allocated to westside flood control from its federal American Rescue Plan Act pandemic funds.
The city also continues to seek additional funds to help pay for the work. For instance, it has applied for a $22 million federal RAISE grant to rebuild the Eighth Avenue bridge.
“The more federal funds we can get into the system, that just accelerates the entire system,” Davis said.
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