CEDAR RAPIDS — The flood protection system for the east side of the Cedar River in downtown Cedar Rapids would be completed within five years, per terms of a project partnership agreement signed Tuesday between city officials and the Army Corps of Engineers.
Tuesday’s agreement allows federal dollars to begin flowing, said Col. Steven Sattinger, commander of the Rock Island District of the Army Corps. Congress approved $117.48 million for the federal project in July, of which the city would be responsible for 35 percent.
“It allows us to start putting construction projects out there for bid,” Sattinger said. “It allows the project to get started.”
The Army Corps plans to manage the construction as nine separate contracts, he said. First up, he said, will be some out-of-view work: installing remaining pumps in a previously installed pump station in parking lot 44 in the NewBo district and completing gatewells to control backups in the underground sewer system.
The first big project will be installing a levee segment near the African-American Museum of Iowa, which could get started in late 2019, Sattinger said.
“We have five years, and the clock is already started,” he said. “We are going to be done on time. That is our commitment to you.”
Cedar Rapids Mayor Brad Hart, who also signed the agreement, called it a “historic moment for us.”
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“We have five years to spend that money and get working,” Hart said. “We are already working and we will continue working to protect our city.”
The full east side project is estimated to cost $245 million, which is only partially covered by the federal funds.
The Sinclair levee and pump station and the lot 44 pump station are completed, and a flood wall around Quaker Oats is under construction. This leaves $180 million worth of work remaining on the east side.
Rob Davis, Cedar Rapids flood control manager, said some costs not covered under the federal project include raising the height of levees and walls by 3 to 4 feet to account for higher water elevation caused by the west side flood system. Also not covered is $15 million to extend a flood wall around Cedar Lake and larger pump stations to account for heavy rains during a flood event.
West side project
Work will continue on the west side system, which remains a priority, Davis said. The west side project is also estimated to cost $245 million not including inflation. Replacing the Eighth Avenue bridge as part of the flood system is budgeted at $60 million, totaling $550 million for the full system or $750 million over 20 years.
The City Council approved a $4.7 million contract with Reinbeck-based Peterson Contractors Inc. for the Czech Village Levee and Gatewells project from 16th Avenue to Bowling Street SW to offer a measure of protection on the west side. The McGrath Ampitheater also doubles as a levee on the west side.
The master plan calls to complete the west side system in the early 2030s, but it could be done sooner, Davis said.
“The quicker we can get this done, the lower the cost overall,” Davis said. “It may allow for acceleration of the west side.”
Tuesday’s agreement provides additional clarity on the funding breakdown.
Several of Iowa’s elected officials including Gov. Kim Reynolds, Sen. Joni Ernst and Rep. Rod Blum announced Cedar Rapids would receive $117 million in federal aid, but in reality, the federal contribution is projected at $76.36 million, or 65 percent, of the authorized project.
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Cedar Rapids is expected to match $41.12 million, although the city’s share can include “work-in-kind,” such as previously completed flood control segments or right-of-way acquisition. At minimum, Cedar Rapids would need to provide a 5 percent cash contribution, or $5.9 million.
The Army Corps is authorized to spend the full $117.48 million up front, in which case the city would have to payback what is owed over 30 years. Davis said the city still is studying what would be the most cost-effective approach.
The City Council previously announced a 10-year, $264 million bonding program to cover most of the city’s share of the east and west sides of flood protection. Citizens could see taxes raised by 22 cents per year for 10 years to pay off the bonds.
The 2008 flood caused an estimated $5.4 billion in damage and loss in the city, and the 2016 and 2018 floods cost $10 million and nearly $1 million, respectively, to install temporary measures to avert disaster. Some of the permanent protection measures already in place are paying dividends, most noticeably in alleviating the burden of protecting the NewBo District when floods threatened this fall, City Manager Jeff Pomeranz said.
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