Government

Persistence on flood control money paid off, Trump OMB Direct Mulvaney says in Cedar Rapids visit

Federal budget director doesn't rule out more aid

Scott Overland (from left), Cedar Rapids City Council member for District 2, Jen Winter, Cedar Rapids Public Works Director, Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney (center), and U.S. Rep. Rod Blum talk with Rob Davis (right), Cedar River Flood Control Program Manager Rob Davis, at the Sinclair Levee project site during a visit to Cedar Rapids on Saturday, July 28, 2018. Blum and Mulvaney toured sites that have been constructed to support the city’s flood protection efforts and areas that were affected by flooding in 2008 and 2016. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
Scott Overland (from left), Cedar Rapids City Council member for District 2, Jen Winter, Cedar Rapids Public Works Director, Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney (center), and U.S. Rep. Rod Blum talk with Rob Davis (right), Cedar River Flood Control Program Manager Rob Davis, at the Sinclair Levee project site during a visit to Cedar Rapids on Saturday, July 28, 2018. Blum and Mulvaney toured sites that have been constructed to support the city’s flood protection efforts and areas that were affected by flooding in 2008 and 2016. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney didn’t deliver a check for the federal government’s $117 million portion of Cedar Rapids’ permanent flood protection system while in town Saturday, but he did deliver praise for the teamwork and persistence that landed the elusive funding.

The announcement by the office and Army Corps of Engineers earlier this month that the city would get $117 million to put toward a $550 million flood control system of walls, levees, gates and pump stations to protect 7.5 miles along the east and west sides of the Cedar River came 10 years after historic flooding caused an estimated $5 billion in property damages and economic losses in the community.

“I know that sounds really hard to swallow” that it would take that long for the funding to be approved, Mulvaney said, after seeing current and planned flood control projects from the Sinclair Levee in NewBo to the West Side Rising memorial sculpture in the Time Check neighborhood.

“Honestly, I think it’s a great testament to your delegation, all members of the delegation, that it only took 10 years,” Mulvaney said.

While it’s easy for Congress to approve projects, the former South Carolina congressman said, “it’s really hard for them to spend money on them. There’s a lot of competition for these dollars.”

“I think at any one time there are literally 1,000 projects that have been approved by Congress but not funded,” he said. “So the competition for this money is extraordinarily intense.”

It didn’t hurt that there was a bit more available this year, Mulvaney said, because of action by Congress in the wake of natural disasters last year.

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“I think it was this project’s turn,” he said. “It’s a very important project for the area and it’s a lot of money.”

First District Rep. Rod Blum, a Dubuque Republican who hosted Mulvaney on the tour, echoed the director’s remarks about teamwork. He gave credit to his predecessor, Democratic Rep. Bruce Braley, Democratic Rep. Dave Loebsack, whose district previously included Cedar Rapids, and Republican Sens. Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst, as well as state and city officials.

“What an exciting time to live in Cedar Rapids,” Blum said. Given the hundreds of acres the city has acquired for flood protection and redevelopment, he predicted “this is going to be a place where people are going to want to work or they want to live or play.”

Before that happens, however, the city has to find a way to fund flood protection on both sides of the Cedar River.

Even with the new $117 million, a funding gap of tens of millions of dollars remains.

So far, the state has kicked in $267 million and $14 million has come from federal grants. The city has invested $10 million of its $110 million commitment.

That’s why the $117 is so important, Mayor Brad Hart said. If the city had to borrow that money, it might have cost taxpayers as much as $200 million, he said.

“This gives us the impetus to go as fast as we can,” Hart said.

Moving quickly is important, City Manager Jeff Pomeranz said, because inflation could add millions of dollars to a project likely to take 15 years or longer.

A variety of options are being considered to fill the funding gap, Pomeranz said. He expects the City Council will have a funding plan within 30 to 60 days to consider.

Blum and Mulvaney didn’t rule out yet more federal funding.

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“If there is more needed, no pun intended, but we’ll cross that bridge when it happens,” Blum said.

l Comments: (319) 398-8375; james.lynch@thegazette.com

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