Government

2018 flooding costs Cedar Rapids nearly $1 million

City, not FEMA, will have to bear price of protection

Cedar Rapids city workers place sandbags Sept. 5 around the base of a concrete culvert that was placed over a sewer drain at the intersection of First Street NW and I Avenue NW in northwest Cedar Rapids. The Cedar River in downtown crested at 15.55 feet on Sept. 10 — less than earlier expected but still in moderate flood stage. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
Cedar Rapids city workers place sandbags Sept. 5 around the base of a concrete culvert that was placed over a sewer drain at the intersection of First Street NW and I Avenue NW in northwest Cedar Rapids. The Cedar River in downtown crested at 15.55 feet on Sept. 10 — less than earlier expected but still in moderate flood stage. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — Protecting against three flooding episodes in September and October cost the city of Cedar Rapids nearly $1 million, city officials estimated in October, and those costs are not eligible for reimbursement through either the Federal Emergency Management Agency or insurance.

There still is no final tally as bills continue to come in, but the top line number is expected to come down below $1 million, said Casey Drew, Cedar Rapids finance and administrative services director. The city had estimated $500,000 for the first flood in which the Cedar River crested downtown at 15.55 feet on Sept. 10, and $250,000 each for floods that crested at 17.94 feet on Sept. 26 and 14.67 feet on Oct. 14.

The city hired contractors for the first, but not for the second or third flood events, Drew said.

“The response to these events shows once again how city staff and contractors do an outstanding job of both planning and enacting temporary measures to minimize flooding impacts on businesses and residents,” Drew said. “Our planned permanent flood control system will eliminate requiring temporary measures each time the river rises, saving the recurring expenses involved with temporary flood protection.”

Included in the cost estimates were erecting sandbag walls around development on the west side of the river, staging pumps and blocking drain intakes and manhole covers, and regular and overtime hours for staff involved.

The flooding highlights how the city must try to anticipate the level of protection needed based on an unpredictable river.

For example, the final flood episode in October once had been predicted to crest at nearly 20 feet, which would have been among the top five most severe floods here if that had happened. On the other hand, the flood in late September crested about a half a foot higher than once predicted, and was the 14th most severe in the city’s recorded history.

The city will have to make a budget amendment to cover the costs, according to minutes from an October finance committee meeting, which were released Thursday.

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“It’s safe to assume these kinds of things are going to be on the city to pay,” said Scott Overland, a City Council member and chairman of the finance committee. “What we do to prevent catastrophic loss is worthwhile, but you certainly don’t like having to pay each time.”

The deductible in the city’s current insurance policy is $250,000 per flood occurrence. Overland said the city has little choice but to protect itself because the cost of being ready is “a drop in the bucket compared to the cost of a natural disaster.”

At the most recent council meeting, officials approved a new city property insurance policy for natural disasters. The one-year policy begins Dec. 1 when the current one ends.

Cedar Rapids is required to carry at least $150 million worth of flood insurance, which is the amount of FEMA dollars received to restore city buildings damaged by the 2008 flood. Additional coverage comes through the National Flood Insurance Program.

The new policy negotiated by the city’s insurance policy manager, TrueNorth Co. of Cedar Rapids is expected to cost $1.47 million, which is a 7 percent increase from the $1.37 million policy expiring at the end of the month.

Increasing frequency and severity of natural disasters has spiked insurance rates. Given that, Overland praised TrueNorth for securing adequate coverage for only modest cost increases. He and Drew said the new policy is virtually the same as the current one. The maximum value of the policy remains $500 million.

l Comments: (319) 398-8310; brian.morelli@thegazette.com

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