CEDAR RAPIDS — Cedar Rapids has completed its first major piece of permanent flood protection nearly a decade after the devastating 2008 flood upended Iowa’s second largest city.
On Friday, city officials celebrated the completion of the Sinclair levee, which traces the east bank of the Cedar River for a half mile from the African American Museum of Iowa to the Alliant substation just south of downtown, protecting the nearby New Bohemia District.
“This levee will now protect the lowest level here in Cedar Rapids,” Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett said in one of his last official acts as mayor.
The soaring levee is 13 feet to 23 feet tall in different places, up to 130 feet wide at the base and has a 12-foot-wide bike and pedestrian trail on top. At 16th Avenue SE, the levee gives way to two walls where a gate can ultimately seal off this section.
For now, if the river rises, temporary HESCO sand barriers will be used to fill the void.
The $15 million project, using $12.5 million from federal Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery Grant funds, includes a 4.4 acre detention basin to absorb floodwater.
It also has a 2,500 gallons-per-minute pump station, which can be expanded to 5,000 gallons per minute. It is designed to prevent flooding through underground sewers.
All together, the system should protect up to a 20-foot river elevation, which has only been topped twice in the city’s recorded history — 2008 and 2016.
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“While we hope this levee is used on very few occasions, it will be used all the time by citizens of Cedar Rapids who will enjoy the trail on top of the levee,” City Manager Jeff Pomeranz said, calling it an engineering feat and the result of years of planning.
“Everything starts with a plan. This is just the beginning of the plan,” he said.
Jennifer Pruden, executive director of the Newbo-Czech Village Main Street District, said the completed levee gives reassurances to people who’ve invested in the area and will draw new interest in land now ripe for development.
“Now we can move forward with development and growing our area,” Pruden said.
Art Hackett, 67, who lives nearby on C Street SW on the west side of the river, talked about the fear of losing his home to the river and said he was thankful and impressed by the levee. He is looking forward to the next phase that will protect his home.
While city officials are calling the Sinclair levee a milestone, they point out millions of dollars have been invested to protect citizens and properties and reduce risk in other ways, such as demolishing more than 1,300 homes and other properties in the flood zone, elevating collector wells and implementing watershed management practices.
A larger pump station in NewBo is slated for completion next summer. A section of a levee near Mount Trashmore and 2,100 feet of flood wall around Quaker Oats are expected to begin next year.
The city estimates it will cost $700 million to build the full flood control system over 20 years. The city remains about $230 million short, and another $78 million in anticipated in federal aid is not a lock.
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