CEDAR RAPIDS — When the federal government came through with funding for flood protection 10 years after the Cedar River caused more than $5 billion damage in Cedar Rapids, U.S. Rep. Rod Blum wasted little time spreading the good news.
Not only did the Dubuque Republican’s office put out the typical news release and make him available for interviews with local media, but the congressman called Cedar Rapids residents to “share some exciting news ... regarding my efforts to obtain funding for the Cedar Rapids floodwall.”
In a robocall, Blum shared that the Army Corps of Engineers had announced $117 million to protect downtown Cedar Rapids and neighborhoods along the Cedar River.
“This project will protect downtown Cedar Rapids homes and businesses on the Cedar River. More importantly, it will protect the lives of our neighbors for years to come,” Blum said on the call.
Winning approval of the funding was a “total team effort,” Blum said in his call. He shared credit with Cedar Rapids city leadership, Republican Sens. Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst and Gov. Kim Reynolds as well as Democratic U.S. Rep. Dave Loebsack, whose district included Cedar Rapids in 2008.
“After many years and many meetings making the case with both the Army Corps of Engineers and the Office of Management and Budget for this specific project, it is now becoming a reality,” he said in the call.
Although Blum’s office declined to say how many people received the robocall or how it was determined who would get the message, spokeswoman Alexah Rogge said Blum “prioritizes communicating with his constituents via many forms, including survey forms, tele-town halls and postcard invitations.”
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Rogge added that because the federal funding commitment for Cedar Rapids was a priority for Blum and the community, “it is important for (Iowa’s 1st District) to know that this 10-year effort was finally realized.
“With over 18,000 in Cedar Rapids directly impacted by the 2008 flood, and more indirectly impacted, this accomplishment gives peace of mind and relief to the Cedar Rapids community,” she said.
Anticipating criticism for the use of robocalls, Rogge noted that the call, which was paid for with official funds from Blum’s office, was preapproved by the bipartisan Congressional Franking Office “and is 100 percent within guidelines of congressional franking and communications.”
The federal $117 million will go toward building the $550 million flood control system of walls, levees, gates and pump stations that Cedar Rapids has designed to protect 7.5 miles along the east and west sides of the Cedar River over the next 20 years.
So far, the state has kicked in $267 million and $14 million has come from federal grants. The city already has invested $10 million of its $110 million commitment.
But even with the new federal aid, a significant gap exists of at least tens of millions of dollars.
When the federal award was first announced, Blum said he believed it was helpful that his former House colleague and friend Mick Mulvaney had become director of the Office of Management and Budget. Blum met with Mulvaney multiple times, and every chance he had, Blum said, he reminded Mulvaney of Cedar Rapids’ need.
He also believes it may have become easier to make that case when he and the president, as well as Iowa’s senators and governor, were all of the same party.
“It’s all about relationships, really,” Blum said. “I had more opportunity to bend the president’s ear one-on-one — and Grassley and Ernst, too.”
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In the end, Blum said, it doesn’t matter why the funding was approved “as long as (the project) gets done.”
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