City Officials: Cedar Rapids "Dodged A Bullet"

By Rick Smith & Dave Franzman, Reporters

The Cedar River flows through downtown Cedar Rapids on Sunday afternoon, June 2, 2013 after its early-morning crest of 18.23 feet. (Liz Martin/The Gazette-KCRG)

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By Aaron Hepker

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa — Cedar Rapids city leaders are breathing a sigh of relief following the crest of the Cedar River on Sunday.

"We really dodged a bullet this time," City Council member Justin Shields, chairman of the council’s Public Safety Committee, said at a Monday morning news conference at the Police Department with the falling Cedar River out the window still at major flood stage.

"We came very, very close to having some serious, serious problems," said Shields. "… (I) f the rain hadn’t stopped, we would have been looking at ’08 one more time."

This time the Cedar River at Cedar Rapids early Sunday morning reached 18.23 feet — 10th highest of all time, but well below the level of the city’s 2008 flood disaster when the river climbed to 31.12 feet.

Monday’s news conference was the chance for city leaders to highlight that the city’s interim flood protection plan worked well, that an round-the-clock contingent of city employees implemented it successfully with little reported damage in the city and that local volunteers and at-risk business owners stepped up to fill and place sandbags in vulnerable spots in New Bohemia and Czech Village.

At the same time, City Manager Jeff Pomeranz estimated that the cost to the city of the emergency flood response would exceed $1 million, which Shields and Mayor Ron Corbett said was a reminder that the city still needs a permanent flood protection system.

Corbett said building the proposed 7.5-mile flood protection system for the city with a price tag of $375 million is expensive, but he said implementing emergency procedures in hopes of protecting the city costs money, too.

"So you can rest assured that we’re not giving up on long-term flood protection," the mayor said. "Until then, we have a good interim protection plan and, if needed, we’ll put it in place again."

Corbett noted that the city has secured backing from the Army Corps of Engineers for the Corps plan to provide east-side flood protection for the city. The Corps’ plan is now in front of Congress, where the Senate in May authorized the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) of 2013. WRDA legislation authorizes projects approved by the Corps, and Cedar Rapids is among 22 of those. The House has not yet authorized the legislation, and then Congress has to agree to fund it.

At the same time, the city is preparing to apply to the new Iowa Flood State Mitigation Board, which was created by the Iowa Legislature in 2012 at the urging of city of Cedar Rapids. The board can help fund local flood protection projects, but requires a 50-percent local match of funds.

Corbett on Monday said the city intends to apply for the maximum annual grant of $15 million from the state board, money that will be used to design west-side flood protection and to use as local match for federal dollars on the east side of the river, he has said.

A preliminary estimate from the city’s Public Works Department put its flood response cost at about $750,000 for payroll, including overtime, equipment, sand, sandbags and outside assistance.

Other city departments, including Water Pollution Control and police and fire departments, also had expenses related to the flood response. Repairs on flooded roads such as Old River Road SW, Otis Road SE, Ellis Road and Ellis Boulevard and Edgewood Road also will be factored into the city’s costs, the city said.

Police Chief Wayne Jerman said the Police Department notified 10 households west of Edgewood Road NW on Ellis Road to evacuate as floodwater for a time closed both Ellis Road and Edgewood Road. One resident chose to ignore barricades in the street and got stuck in the water, the police chief reported.

Craig Hanson, the city’s public works maintenance manager, said temporary sandbag stations in New Bohemia, Czech Village and Kingston Village was a good move so volunteers easily could fill bags and get them where they were needed. The city’s system of plugs, which kept river water from flowing back into the storm sewers and into the street, worked well, he added.

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