Government

Design changes to flood control plan near Cargill, Cedar Lake advance

Cargill Corn Milling sits on the east side of the Cedar River in southeast Cedar Rapids. Photographed on Monday, May 6, 2013. (Liz Martin/The Gazette-KCRG)
Cargill Corn Milling sits on the east side of the Cedar River in southeast Cedar Rapids. Photographed on Monday, May 6, 2013. (Liz Martin/The Gazette-KCRG)

CEDAR RAPIDS — A week after the latest flood scare, city officials advanced design changes to a planned flood control system they say will better protect the city, its residents and some of its biggest employers, including Cargill, UnityPoint-St. Luke’s Hospital and Coe College.

At the north end of downtown, a proposed change would extend the flood barrier around Cedar Lake, providing permanent protection to an additional 86 properties, including homes and businesses along Center Point Road NE and Shaver Road NE, Coe and St. Luke’s. At the southern end of downtown, a second proposal would shift where the flood barrier crosses Otis Road SE allowing corn processing giant Cargill to continue operations in the event of severe flooding.

“It’s really a marginal cost difference — very small — and it raises the level of protection,” said Tyler Olson, a Cedar Rapids council member and chair of the flood control committee. “It’s an easy decision to make.”

Council members Susie Weinacht and Marty Hoeger concurred, and the committee of three unanimously endorsed the two design changes during a meeting on Tuesday. The proposal, which requires modifications to the 2015 flood control master plan, is expected to go to the full City Council for approval next Tuesday.

City Council member Dale Todd, who also attended the meeting and has been working on a restoration of Cedar Lake, called the plan a “win-win” for the community and businesses.

The north end section costs would increase from $43 million to $55 million but comes with a few benefits, said Rob Davis, the city’s flood control manager. First, it protects the 86 additional properties. Second, it eliminates six gates, which are seen as more costly and more prone to leaks and malfunctions. Third, it would eliminate crossing six railroad tracks.

Cedar Lake would serve as a detention basin that could be pre-emptively pumped to allow more room for water to pool during floods, he said.

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By Cargill, the realignment would bend the flood control system around where Otis Road turns into the Cargill plant, keeping the road on the “dry side,” Davis said. This would be cost neutral, in part because it would eliminate one of two gates needed here and it would also move a flood wall gate off a railroad switch, he said.

“This allows the Cargill corn plant to operate with all systems during a flood event,” Davis said.

Davis also provided a financial update during the meeting.

Cedar Rapids generated $10 million in sales tax revenue to be applied to flood protection, but did not generate enough to max out its $13 million cap for the year under the state’s growth reinvestment initiative, Davis said. The 20-year, $267 million deal with the state, allows Cedar Rapids to keep growth in sales tax revenue for flood protection. The cap increases to $15 million next year, Davis said. The city forgoes the difference between the revenue generated and the cap, Davis said, noting he does not view this as a concern at this time.

In more positive news, Cedar Rapids is expected to receive a $1 million Iowa Department of Transportation grant related to flood control for rail realignment by Quaker Oats, and the city is in the running for additional grants.

Cedar Rapids is in process of constructing a flood control system — estimated to cost $750 million over 20 years — in which a system of berms, walls, pump stations and gates protects the east and west sides of the Cedar River through downtown. City leaders recently endorsed a 10-year, $264 million bonding plan to help pay for the local share of the project. Citizens could face a 22-cent per year tax increase to pay for the plan.

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

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