Government

Fate of money for Cedar Rapids flood control under watchful eyes

'We just move forward with the status quo,' Army Corps official says

Construction continues Jan. 4 on the flood wall along the east shore of the Cedar River to protect Quaker in northeast Cedar Rapids. Work on building out the flood control system was expected to accelerate in 2019 with the help of federal disaster assistance. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
Construction continues Jan. 4 on the flood wall along the east shore of the Cedar River to protect Quaker in northeast Cedar Rapids. Work on building out the flood control system was expected to accelerate in 2019 with the help of federal disaster assistance. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — Federal money to help build a flood control system in Cedar Rapids is not likely at risk of being clawed back if President Donald Trump were to declare a national immigration emergency — but several officials said they’ll be keeping an eye on it just in case.

Thursday, Trump told reporters he had the right to declare a national emergency to obtain funds for a southern border wall, bypassing congressional Democrats who refuse to give him $5.7 billion for it. But by Friday, Trump was backing away from that idea — at least for now.

Several national news organizations reported the White House wanted to see how much money would be available from uncompleted miliary and natural disaster recovery projects if the president did call an emergency.

One of the appropriations the White House singled out is one announced last year that gave up to $117 million — part of it a loan — to the Cedar Rapids project.

“We are looking into this to ensure relief for Cedar Rapids is not impacted. Initial conversations with the Army Corps indicate that criteria are in place that would prevent the Cedar Rapids project from being impacted,” Liz Bowman, a spokeswoman for Republican U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst, said in an email Friday.

Sen. Chuck Grassley also said he had reached out to the Army Corps for an update. The Corps receives funds on a quarterly basis, he said,

“It’s too early to say if there will be any impact from a presidential emergency declaration that hasn’t been issued yet, but I’m following this issue closely and expect the Administration to follow through on its commitment to Cedar Rapids,” Grassley said.

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Allen Marshall, chief of corporate communications with the Army Corps of Engineers Rock Island District, said Friday he had not heard of any changes to the federal funds dedicated to Cedar Rapids.

“We haven’t been notified of any type of changes. With that said, it’s impossible for us to see anything down the line ... as far as I know and I’ve talked to some of our senior leaders, there’s been no contact to us regarding any of the funding for Cedar Rapids. We just move forward with the status quo,” Marshall said.

The Army Corps and the city last November signed a project partnership deal, but the Corps has not yet awarded contracts for the work.

Marshall said the plan this year is to design flood protections on the east side of the Cedar River in Cedar Rapids. Construction contracts should be complete by the end of the year or early 2020, he said.

The Cedar Rapids flood control project — which has been in the works since historic 2008 flooding caused more than $5 billion in damages and losses in the city — has been estimated at $550 million, or $750 million when considering inflation over 20 years.

A statement provided Friday by Maria Johnson, communications division manager for the city of Cedar Rapids, said that city staff have remained in contact with members of Congress and the Army Corps to determine if a presidential emergency would impact federal funding for the flood project.

“While we are unsure at this time whether there will be any impact to the Cedar Rapids’ project, we will continue to advocate for funding and stand ready to support our congressional delegation in the pursuit of permanent flood protection,” the statement said.

Last summer, the Army Corps announced the Cedar Rapids effort as one of 60 flood and storm-damage reduction projects to receive a share of $17.4 billion awarded last year for disaster recovery across the country.

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The city has spent about $61 million so far on flood protection and has lined up nearly $400 million in state and federal funding for levees and flood walls.

To meet the gap in funds, the city has proposed a 10-year property tax levy increase of 22 cents per $1,000 in property value. That is an additional $18 for an $150,000 home.

The levy would allow the city to issue $200 million in bond debt over the next 10 years.

l Comments: (319) 398-8309; mitchell.schmidt@thegazette.com

B.A. Morelli and James Q. Lynch of The Gazette contributed.

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