Staff Editorial

Funding milestone marks long road ahead for flood protection

Temporary flood protection is seen to shore up the construction area for a permanent flood wall at the Quaker facility along the Cedar River in northeast Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on Wednesday, Sept. 5, 2018.  (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
Temporary flood protection is seen to shore up the construction area for a permanent flood wall at the Quaker facility along the Cedar River in northeast Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on Wednesday, Sept. 5, 2018. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

Cedar Rapids marked another milestone this week in its decadelong effort to build permanent flood protection along the Cedar River.

On Tuesday, city leaders and Col. Steven Sattinger of the Army Corps of Engineers signed a formal partnership agreement providing $117 million in upfront dollars for the construction of levees and flood walls on the east side of the river. A $41 million share of those funds is in the form of a loan covering the city’s local match, which must be repaid over 30 years.

It’s one more welcome piece of the puzzle city leaders have been working to complete since the City Council approved a protection plan back in October 2008. When the corps concluded in 2010 that only east side protection is financially feasible under its benefit-cost model, the city worked to gain critical state funding. With state and federal funding secured, the city announced its plan to ask local taxpayers to fill the remaining gap in a project estimated to cost $700 million over 15-20 years.

Pieces of the system already are complete, and federal dollars, which must be spent within 5 years, mean east side construction will proceed at an accelerated pace. West side protection will take longer, perhaps 15 years, to finish. In the meantime, the city has shown skill in deploying temporary measures, such as HESCO barriers, to meet flood threats.

It’s among the largest, most ambitious and most expensive infrastructure projects in the city’s history. It’s a big bill for taxpayers, but according to a new analysis, the investment will pay off in the long run.

A report released last month by the National Institute of Building Sciences found that proactive flood mitigation projects offer a healthy return on investment. Among 10 projects across the country analyzed, eight yielded positive returns and one broke even. Among the highest-return projects was bridge reconstruction and road elevation on North Dubuque Street in Iowa City, which the report found returned as benefit of $11 for every dollar spent.

The flood of 2008 spawned $5 billion in damage in Cedar Rapids, destabilized the local economy far beyond the flood zone and disrupted public services, among effects too numerous to list here. Another flood of that magnitude could wash away the fruits of the city’s remarkable and hard-won recovery. A changing climate spawning more heavy rainfall in the Midwest adds a sense of urgency.

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So the numbers are big, but the risk is even bigger. We hope the city continues to look for other funding mechanisms to lessen the burden on local taxpayers. There’s movement in Congress, for example, to create a revolving loan fund for states that would provide funding for mitigation projects.

Federal funding is milestone, with a long road ahead. Determination and persistence still will be needed to secure the city’s future.

• Comments: (319) 398-8262’ editorial@thegazette.com

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