C.R. and Corps of Engineers cooperating on massive flood control system, with first portion on track despite pandemic

Work continues Thursday on the $2.4 million floodgate that will protect the New Bohemia business district south of downt
Work continues Thursday on the $2.4 million floodgate that will protect the New Bohemia business district south of downtown Cedar Rapids. The gate — 4-feet thick, 14-fet tall and 67-feet long — will hide behind a flood wall. The Army Corps of Engineers is managing the project, as part of the $117 million the federal government has committed to the city’s flood control plan. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — The first major federally funded portion of Cedar Rapids’ flood control system is on track despite starting during a pandemic, city officials told U.S. Rep. Abby Finkenauer on Thursday.

The Army Corps of Engineers began work in April on a 4-foot thick, 14-foot tall, 67-foot long floodgate to protect the New Bohemia business district south of the downtown.

The floodgate will hide behind a flood wall and roll into place across the eastern approach to the 16th Avenue Bridge when the Cedar River begins to flood.

It will take about 45 minutes to close and is a major piece in the plans to prevent another catastrophe like the 2008 flood that caused $5 billion in damages in Cedar Rapids.

Rob Davis, the city flood control manager, told Finkenauer that Cedar Rapids officials had been gearing up to build the floodgate when the Army Corps said it could bid the project in a timely fashion.

That allowed the city to redirect dollars to other parts of what will be a 20-year, $750 million flood control system — covering 7 miles — that will protect properties on both sides of the river.

Davis said the city and the Corps trade off who takes the lead on certain segments of the system. The Corps, he said, will handle about 40 percent of the work.


“We’re choosing in terms of expediency, well, we’ll go ahead and build a lot of things ourselves,” he said, “and we can just keep the progress going.”

Last fall, city and federal officials celebrated the beginning of the rolling gate project with the award of a $2.4 million contract.

The Corps approved the floodgate’s design in 2011 to protect the east side of the river, but balked — because of the federal cost-benefit rules — to paying for west-side protection. The city said it would take care of that part.

“When this project was coming up and you guys were trying to figure out how to do this, they weren’t taking into account the societal implications, that type of thing, it was only economic,” Finkenauer, D-Iowa, told city officials during a stop near the 16th Avenue Bridge work.

“What that meant, then, you’ve got one side of the river or one piece that gets covered, ... and the other you’re having to fold neighborhoods because that was really the only thing you were left with.”

Congress signed off on providing $70 million to $80 million for the flood control system, the money was not allocated until the summer of 2018, after a continued push by local officials.

Congress finally approved $117 million to finish east-side flood protection, with 65 percent from federal coffers and 35 percent from local funds.

The city receives flood-control money from a state sales tax set-aside and will finance the remainder through a property tax increase.


Finkenauer, a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said she introduced a bipartisan amendment to the 2020 Water Resources Development Act that will require the Army Corps secretary to develop a best practices document to ensure Corps officials work closely with local officials in planning projects after major disasters.

“It’s just making it more efficient and figuring out what works and what doesn’t,” Finkenauer said. “We can be able to then not just help our communities here in Iowa, but all across the country do this in a better way and save taxpayer dollars while we do it as well.”

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