FLOOD PROTECTION

Cedar Rapids leaders back $86 million toward flood control

Commitment covers Army Corps work beyond federal formula

About $46.5 million already has been spent on building flood protection on the east side of the Cedar River in Cedar Rapids, including construction of the Sinclair levee, pictured here Jan. 4. Eventually a removable, temporary flood barrier will connect these two sections of concrete flood wall coming off the Sinclair levee and crossing 16th Avenue SE. The City Council on Tuesday backed an $86 million commitment to the Army Corps needed to work on east-side flood protection. The city is building west-side flood protection without federal aid. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
About $46.5 million already has been spent on building flood protection on the east side of the Cedar River in Cedar Rapids, including construction of the Sinclair levee, pictured here Jan. 4. Eventually a removable, temporary flood barrier will connect these two sections of concrete flood wall coming off the Sinclair levee and crossing 16th Avenue SE. The City Council on Tuesday backed an $86 million commitment to the Army Corps needed to work on east-side flood protection. The city is building west-side flood protection without federal aid. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — Cedar Rapids City Council has authorized payments of up to $86 million to the Army Corps of Engineers so it can complete the vast majority of the east side flood protection system, during a meeting on Tuesday evening.

The total amount includes $41 million as local share of $117 million federal aid package — $76 million comes as a federal grant — and $45 million for components of the flood system the Army Corps will build beyond the federally approved project scope. The resolution authorizes the city to make payments as bills from the Army Corps, which is taking the lead on east side construction efforts, come in over the next years.

“They need the money from us up front for anything not included in the federal authorization,” Rob Davis told the City Council before it unanimously approved the resolution.

The city has passed a bonding plan — $264 million over 10 years — which will cover the $45 million piece of the resolution — the money needed up front.

The city has more time to decide on how to cover the remaining $41 million.

As part of authorizing $117 million, the federal government provided the option of repaying the $41 million local match as a low interest, long term loan. City leaders will decide at a later date whether to accept the loan or repay the $41 million in another way.

Army Corps is not covering portions of the cost the city wanted to include, but did not meet the federal cost-benefit ratio. For example, the east side levee system is designed to be built a few feet higher than what was federally authorized to accommodate for higher river levels due to the west side flood system, which the Army Corps did not authorize.

Other costs included in the Army Corps work beyond federal authorization include additional pump stations and an extension of the flood system around Cedar Lake to J Avenue NE.

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Cedar Rapids Finance Director Casey Drew said the resolution is intended to make clear the city’s financial obligations.

The total east side system is estimated to cost $245 million, of which $46.5 million has already been spent, including on the Sinclair levee and a pump station. Other aspects of the budget not previously addressed include a buffer for inflation and a portion of the Eighth Avenue Bridge replacement.

In other news:

— Cedar Rapids leaders reflected on the halfway point of a 10-year, voter approved street repair initiative called Paving for Progress, with some indication voters may be asked to continue the initiative in a few years.

“More than likely, hopefully the public will understand if we come back when this gets near the end and ask for an additional 10 years that it is going to take a couple of decades to catch back up with all of the street maintenance that was deferred for years and years,” City COuncil member Scott Olson said.

Among the highlights of Paving for Progress, which is fueled by a 1-cent local-option sales tax voters approved in 2013, $80 million in investment over five years, 44 linear miles of road way improved, and 134 projects completed including 66 percent residential and 33 percent arterial streets.

This includes reconstruction of some of Cedar Rapids worst streets, such as parts of O Avenue NW, Oakland Road, NE, and Northwood Drive NE.

Since the program began in earnest in 2015, overall road conditions have improved slightly with the proportion of roads considered good or very good increasing from 49 to 55 percent of the road network.

Officials projected before the initiative began it would take $50 million a year for 10 years to restore the road network, while the tax is only providing $18 million a year, Olson said.

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Cedar Rapids Mayor Brad Hart praised the progress made, which may be hard to notice midwinter, and vowed the city would continue its best effort to respond to the scourge of potholes caused by the severe winter.

— Jay Vavra, vice president of Save CR Heritage, submitted a petition with 750 signatures calling on the city to stop providing public incentives to developers who plan to demolish buildings eligible for the historic registry. He did praise recent changes to the city economic development program, which now incentivizes moving or incorporating historic structures into redevelopments.

— A $12 million assisted living housing project at 3016, 3010, 3004, and 2956 Center Point Road and 3007 Oakland Road NE on Center Point Road NE gained support for rezoning, changes to the city’s future land use plan and a tax incentive proposal.

The complex proposed by Iowa City developer M&W Properties, LLC would include a three-story structure with 52 units, including 10 for memory care, and would create 30 jobs. City staff project the project would generate $1.7 million in taxes over 10 years, of which $1.5 million would be rebated under the city’s brownfield-grayfield economic development program.

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

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