Cedar Rapids Council Members Back $1M Berm for Flooding

By Rick Smith, Reporter

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By Ryan Jones

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa — The city’s need on Thursday to once again rush emergency flood protection to the Sun Valley neighborhood along a flash-flood-prone stretch of Indian Creek may have brought to an end an 11-year discussion.

The City Council’s Flood Recovery Committee on Thursday recommended that the city use some of the remaining revenue from the city’s local-option sales tax for flood recovery to construct a berm to protect the Sun Valley neighborhood from Indian Creek.

"We need to get this under control as soon as possible," council member Don Karr, chairman of the three-member committee, said after a handful of neighbors from Sun Valley urged the city anew to quickly get protection in place for the two dozen homes in the neighborhood.

Last night, Mayor Ron Corbett weighed in: "Sun Valley has been studied long enough. We need to move forward. The Indian Creek watershed continues to have more development, and as a result, more storm runoff."

On Tuesday of this week — before Thursday’s flash flood — the council’s three-member Infrastructure Committee also backed a berm for Sun Valley, Chuck Swore, the committee chairman, said last night.

Jim Sines, a Cedar Rapids attorney and neighborhood resident, was one who asked for city action on Thursday as he has repeatedly since June 4, 2002, when a flash flood on Indian Creek damaged some 25 homes in the neighborhood.

"We think it’s time for the city to take action," said Sines, who along with the other neighbors applauded the city’s work on Thursday for rushing pumps and temporary flood protection in the form of water-filled tiger dams to the neighborhood to hold back the flooding creek.

Neighborhood resident Neil Anderson, 4276 Cottage Grove Pkwy. SE, said Indian Creek threatens the neighborhood two of every three years, a threat that he said had become a "near-normal" state of life.

"We need a berm to protect us," he said.

His wife, Dee, said the neighbors have been living in limbo, wary of the creek and unsure what they can or can’t put in their basements for fear of another flood.

"It’s ridiculous how the creek has come to color everything we deal with," she said. "… I don’t want to keep living this way. I don’t have any joy."

Council member Ann Poe, also a Flood Recovery Committee member, agreed with Karr that the city should use some of remaining revenue from the city’s sale tax to get the berm built.

Rob Davis, the city’s engineering operations manager, on Thursday estimated the cost of the berm at $700,000 to $1 million.

He noted that the city had sought funding from the state I-JOBS program after the 2008 flood on the Cedar River, but the project was not awarded funds.

The berm design, he said, has changed a little over time, with the plan now to build it 20 feet closer to the creek and so farther from Cottage Grove Parkway SE and the homes across the street from the proposed berm.

As now envisioned, the berm would stand about six feet in height at its tallest, though he said upcoming neighborhood meetings would need to help determine if the neighbors wanted protection to the 100-year flood level or to higher level of the 2002 neighborhood flood. Also to be determined is how much of the berm would wrap around the west side of the neighborhood to prevent water from entering there, Davis said.

He noted that the design work will take into account what would happen to the creek flow with a berm so a berm wouldn’t put properties on the other side of the creek or down stream at greater flood risk.

He noted that the city already had contracted for the design work, and Dave Elgin, the city’s public works director and city engineer, added that the Army Corps of Engineers already has completed a hydrology study for the berm.

At the same time, Davis said it could take a year to secure permits from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources to construct a berm, to which Poe urged Davis and Elgin to try to move faster if the City Council agrees to build the berm.

Davis said the city also is planning to relocate a storm sewer in Sun Valley this year at a cost of $100,000 to $150,000 and to do other backyard work to cut down on water in backyards.

Late Thursday afternoon, Sines called Thursday's council committee recommendation a promising sign.

"The proof is in the follow-up, and we have a ways to go," Sines said. "But it’s encouraging at this stage that there may be funds available (for the work)."

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