Government

Top stories of the 2010s: A decade of recovery from the floods of 2008

Billions have been spent, millions more to come

Construction workers in June 2011 slowly move the National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library to a higher elevation, out of
Construction workers in June 2011 slowly move the National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library to a higher elevation, out of harm’s way. The museum, which sat on the banks for the Cedar River, was inundated in the June 2008 floods. Museum staff raised $28 million to expand and elevate the museum in southwest Cedar Rapids. (The Gazette)
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The eve of a new decade presents a perfect time to reflect on the past 10 years, to look at the changes in our lives and in our state and nation. For Iowa, The Gazette chose 10 storylines of the decade that have changed or will change the state’s trajectory. This is No. 1 story on our list. See the full list and read them here.

The years between 2010 and 2020 have been a transformative decade as Eastern Iowa has recovered from the devastating floods of 2008.

The flooding caused more than $6 billion in economic and physical damage in the Corridor, most in Cedar Rapids.

No tally is available on how much has been spent so far on the recovery — which remains ongoing — but it’s easily in the billions.

The expansion and dramatic move uphill of the National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library in Cedar Rapids, for example, cost $28 million.

A beautiful new downtown Cedar Rapids Public Library cost $45 million.

The equally beautiful Hancher Auditorium at the University of Iowa, built on higher ground, cost $176 million.

The $162 million federal courthouse opened in Cedar Rapids in 2012.

Iowa City spent $40 million elevating Dubuque Street and Park Road Bridge.

And that just scratches the surface.

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CRST moved into a $37 million headquarters on the banks of the Cedar River in Cedar Rapids.

United Fire Group completed $28 million worth of renovations and an expansion of its flood-damaged offices in the heart of downtown.

It doesn’t take long to reach a billion with numbers like that.

Much of the money helping Eastern Iowa’s recovery came from federal taxpayers through the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Small Business Administration, from state taxpayers via I-JOBS and diverted sales taxes, and from thousands of individuals who donated a total of $5.7 million to the flood fund at the Greater Cedar Rapids Community Foundation to help nonprofits and individuals recover.

And much of the money that has helped — and will continue to help — Cedar Rapids build out its $750 million flood protection plan will come from the federal and state government and from Cedar Rapids property taxpayers in the coming decade.

It’s overwhelming.

But the recovery has been managed and directed by an army of professionals, business people and volunteers. And it’s heartening to see how much Cedar Rapids, for one, has learned about flood control.

In September 2016, the Cedar River crested at 21.97 feet, the second highest crest behind the 31.12 feet in June 2008.

This flood cost the city about $10 million, but the flooding was almost entirely contained with temporary sand barriers, levees and a lot of hustle.

Quaker didn’t flood, the Linn County Jail didn’t flood, the downtown and west-side neighborhoods didn’t flood this time.

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The loss of more than 1,000 homes in Cedar Rapids still is being addressed. At least 1,012 units of housing — apartments to single-family homes — were permitted to be built in the city’s core between 2010 and 2018. Citywide, it was 4,725 units, according to city records. Some of the units are classified as affordable housing.

The NewBo District and Kingston Village are booming, the Czech Village business district is flourishing and housing and businesses are finding their way into the flood-gutted Time Check northwest neighborhood.

If this decade was one of recovery, the coming decade could well be the decade of protection.

Cedar Rapids plans to spend $40 million this fiscal year on flood protection. And the work on levees and flood gates and pump stations will continue for at least the next 10 years, on projects on both sides of the Cedar River that will cost, in the end, about $750 million.

Here’s hoping it helps us all sleep better those nights when it just keeps raining.

Comments: mary.sharp@thegazette.com

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We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

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