CEDAR RAPIDS — U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, said Monday she is “extremely optimistic” federal aid for flood protection in Cedar Rapids is just around the corner.
The likelihood of that funding has teetered back and forth since the 2008 flood, but Ernst said she believes now is different.
“I am stressing to the folks in Cedar Rapids how optimistic I am that we are finally nearing the end of their very long struggle,” Ernst said during a news conference in Cedar Rapids. “We are grateful for the opportunity to hopefully make this happen.”
Ernst met with officials from the city of Cedar Rapids and key industries along the river, including Ingredion, Quaker Oats and Cargill, for about 20 minutes on Monday afternoon at the Cedar Rapids Public Library. The meeting was closed to the public, but Ernst and others spoke to reporters afterward.
It was one of several Cedar Rapids stops for Ernst on Monday, who toured Toyota Financial Service earlier in the day, and had a reception with Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, in the evening. She is scheduled to hold a town hall meeting at the Iowa Braille and Sight Saving School Auditorium, 1002 G Avenue in Vinton at 11 a.m. Tuesday.
Ernst said the need of flood funding for Cedar Rapids is gaining “traction” in Washington, and an answer should come in the “next several months.” She said she is optimistic for a few reasons.
She was appointed to the Environment and Public Works Committee, which deals with infrastructure.
She said she’s made progress appealing to high-ranking federal officials, including R.D. James, assistant secretary of the Army for Civil Works, and Lt. Gen. Todd Semonite, the Corps’ chief of engineers, about adjusting the benefit-to-cost ratio for awarding federal aid and for considering a waiver based on protecting human life.
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Meanwhile, she said, her team has identified “different dollars allocated for natural disaster,” for which Cedar Rapids may qualify.
Cedar Rapids Mayor Brad Hart said he, too, is optimistic, but at this point the city would take anything.
“If we can get a start, we can continue to fund as money becomes available,” Hart said. “So it is extremely important to get started, and I think we have the best chance to get started we’ve had in the last 10 years.”
Cedar Rapids had initially sought and had been authorized for $78 million in federal aid, but the money has never been allocated. The latest estimate for the flood protection system is $750 million, but the number is fluid as different configurations are considered.
The state is kicking in $270 million, and the city has committed $110 million.
“Where the dollars are going to come from and the amount we don’t know, but we’ve been given every reason to believe there’s good news coming and that’s what we will wait for,” Cedar Rapids City Manager Jeff Pomeranz said.
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