CEDAR RAPIDS — It’s a vote that has been a long time in the making.
During the Cedar Rapids council meeting Tuesday evening it was left to City Council member Ann Poe and Rob Davis, the city’s flood control program manager, to speak in historic terms for the others on the council as it unanimously approved the master plan for the city’s flood control system that could cost $600 million and take 20 years to build.
The plan has been in the making since the first months after the city’s record flood disaster of June 2008, with a conceptual version of it approved in late 2008 and now refined in the last nine months with a new round of engineering consultants and input from the public.
Poe, chairwoman of the council’s Flood Control System Committee, last night called the plan “amazing” and promised that it “will serve the community well.”
Poe added one key caveat, however.
“….I hope we never have to use it,” she said.
At one point, she turned to Mayor Ron Corbett and said her council committee had taken his three wishes to heart: that the coming system protect the city; that it doesn’t shut the city off from the river; and that it is beautiful to look at.
Davis, who has been the city’s engineering operations manager and who now will lead its flood control management, said last night’s council approval of the master plan was “a watershed moment” and a “milestone for the city of Cedar Rapids.” He said the project will be the largest capital improvement project in the city’s history.
Davis said the cost of building the system is $400 million in today’s dollars, but inflation will raise the price tag to $600 million if he takes 20 years to complete.
About two-thirds of the cost is in actual construction, one-third in preconstruction work such as engineering, design and property acquisition, Davis said.
Council member Kris Gulick urged Davis to speed up the work to get protection in place quicker and to save money.
The final plan is not so different from the 2008 conceptual plan and will include 6.5 miles of earthen levees, flood walls, removable flood walls and gates at bridges.
Davis said removable walls are the most expensive, but the system will maximize their use in downtown, Kingston Village and Czech Village to keep as much of the river open to the public in the 99.9 percent of the time that the protection won’t be needed, he said.
Under the plan’s timeline, work in the plan’s first five years will take place at New Bohemia, the lowest area of the city which battled high water twice as recently as 2014. Early work also will take place across the river at Czech Village.
In years five through 10 of the plan, work will occur in the industrial area north of the Quaker Co. plant and in Kingston Village, Later work will take place downtown, in Time Check and to protect the Cargill plant south of downtown and the Penford plant across from downtown.
Davis said downtown sits relatively high and is relatively well protected from less-than-extreme flooding.
First components of the project are already in place — at the city’s riverfront amphitheater and the new CRST building, now under construction. Work to raise the flood wall at the Quaker Co. plant starts later this summer.
The city’s 2008 conceptual plan called for the east side protection to run 1.5 miles north of the Quaker Co. plant to protect Cedar Lake and the area around it. However, the master plan only includes that as an option. For now, the flood control will head east from the river on the north side of the Quaker Co. plant.
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Davis assured council member Ralph Russell that the entire system is designed so the option can be used should the city decide to use it later.
Some $264 million in state funds will pay for much of the system’s construction. The city also figures that it has spent $117 million in federal funds to date for buyouts, and it hopes for additional federal funding.
Poe, who grew up along the river near Ellis Park, said she particularly liked that the master plan will allow those still living along the river, but who are in the way of the flood control system, to stay in their homes for some years until it’s time to require them to leave.
“I know they’re grateful for that opportunity,” she said.