Government

Cedar Rapids takes on Army Corps' first flood projects

Corps says it remains committed to its 5-year time frame

Army Corps of Engineers Col. Steven Sattinger, right, and Cedar Rapids Mayor Brad Hart, center, sign an agreement Nov. 2
Army Corps of Engineers Col. Steven Sattinger, right, and Cedar Rapids Mayor Brad Hart, center, sign an agreement Nov. 27, 2018, to begin federal work on the Cedar River flood project. (B.A. Morelli/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — The city is taking over what was expected to be the first major federal portion of building the Cedar Rapids flood protection system.

The Army Corps of Engineers had designed a levee near the African-American Museum of Iowa from Eighth Avenue to 12th Avenue SE with plans to construct it. The city is taking over construction of the estimated $2.8 million project, said Rob Davis, Cedar Rapids flood control manager.

“It is more of a scheduling thing,” Davis said. “We thought with our procedures we could get it out to bid a little quicker. If they get it going later in the spring or early summer, it might spill over into next year. We thought we could get it wrapped up in one construction season.”

This would be one of at least two projects — also including an estimated $3 million installation of a road closure gate on Third Avenue SE — the Army Corps was expected to lead that transferred to the city. Local and federal officials, though, say this does not signal the Army Corps is behind schedule.

“The city and the Corps are all on one team,” said Jason Smith, an Army Corps engineer for the Rock Island District involved in the project. “We look at what is best way to advance each element. In this case, it made sense for the city to contract that work.”

Cedar Rapids officials had pressed federal officials for a decade after the community-changing 2008 flood for financial help in building flood protection.

Congress eventually approved $117 million to complete east-side flood protection, of which 65 percent would come from federal coffers and 35 percent from local funds.

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In signing a project partnership agreement with the city of Cedar Rapids in November 2018, Army Corps officials committed to completing the project within five years, or by 2023.

Installation of the levee segment near the African American Museum was noted as the first big project — potentially getting started in late 2019 — Army Corps officials said at the time.

Smith noted the Army Corps is continuing to progress on several fronts including design, real estate acquisition and award of contracts.

“The Army Corps remains committed to completing it in five years,” he said.

Last fall, the city and Army Corps celebrated the beginning of the federal portion of the project upon the award of a $2.4 million contract for the installation of a rolling gate along 16th Avenue, a segment the city had designed.

The Army Corps had envisioned the full scope of its work as divided into nine bid packages or contracts. Davis said the partners now are looking at ways to break the work down further in hopes of attracting the interest of more contractors and getting the work done more quickly.

With each new completed piece, temporary flood protection measures are that much easier to deploy when the Cedar River rises, Davis said.

Davis said transfer of projects has little impact on the financial bottom line. The city still must come up with $41 million of cash and in-kind work as a match for the $76 million in federal aid. Davis said the levee and gate count toward it.

Davis said he envisions the city might take over additional segments from the Army Corps through the life of the partnership.

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“I would say the main theme of this is the city and Corps are seeing what we can do to accelerate the project,” he said. “We are not deviating from the schedule. We are deviating from bid packages.”

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

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