Amid President's Budget, Will Fed Funding For Cedar Rapids Flood Wall Fade?

By Chris Earl, Reporter

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By Chris Earl

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa - Now at 33 months since the Flood of 2008, years of planning, plotting and surveying still come down to loosening the grip on federal funding.

"Your first goal is to get the approval of the (U.S. Army) Corps of Engineers, which we have done," said Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett. "It just needs to be funded by Congress."

With voters rejecting proposals for a local-option sales tax to fund flood walls on both sides of the Cedar River in downtown Cedar Rapids, now the focus is whether Congress will pick up $78 million of the cost for the $120 million "east wall".

The Corps has offered its recommendation for an east wall to reduce the chance of future flooding.

Yet the east wall also holds a relatively low BCR, "benefit-cost ratio" of 1.2:1. The Corps determined a wall on the Cedar River's west side did not meet the threshold of 1.0.

"There are many projects in the pipeline that have a better (ratio) than ours," Corbett admitted.

Senator Tom Harkin did request the $78 million as he is part of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. Last month, the committee unanimously approved S.601, the Water Resources Development Act of 2013.

However, the road from passing committee to the dollars flowing back to Cedar Rapids remains a long one.

"It's clear this is going to be a very long process for us," said Joe O'Hern, the city's executive administrator of development services. O'Hern has been at the core of flood recovery and planning for years. "If that legislation were to go through and pass, it would be a significant step forward for us. It would still leave us needing Congress to actually appropriate dollars for the construction".

Late Wednesday night, Congressman Bruce Braley's office released a statement, by e-mail, hours after President Obama's budget was released and members of Congress spent the day reacting to it.

"We need to be making budget choices that reduce spending but don't endanger vitally important disaster recovery and flood prevention projects like the East Wall in Cedar Rapids," Braley's statement read,

Rather than focus on an entire east wall project to be delivered at one time, Corbett said to just look to the south for a model on a continuous project.

"It's easy to get discouraged but I look to the airport," said Corbett. "I'm looking at flood protection in the same way the airport was built. It's probably going to be in phases and will take multiple years to get that built to get done, unfortunately."

Now at nearly five years since the flood peak in June 2013, O'Hern said there is a preferred time frame.

"Our preferred time frame is as soon as possible but it is one of those things where you just have to continue to work with Congress to get the dollars appropriated," said O'Hern.

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