U.S. House Takes Up Cedar Rapids Flood Protection Project

By Rick Smith, Reporter

The five-in-one dam (top) under Interstate 380 and the First Avenue bridge over the Cedar River in downtown Cedar Rapids on Saturday, May 30, 2011, in northeast Cedar Rapids. (Jim Slosiarek/KCRG-TV9)

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By Aaron Hepker

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa - Mayor Ron Corbett says half a decade of hard work has gotten the city to a promising place, page 156 of the new legislative bill submitted to the U.S. House of Representatives this week to authorize national flood-protection projects.

It is at the end of the 159-page bill titled The Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2013 that the bill’s language spells out 21 specific projects for Congressional authorization. And of the five flood-risk management projects among the 21 total projects is the Cedar River at Cedar Rapids.

“We’ve worked hard in the last five years – the City Council, city staff members, community advocates and our Congressional delegation – to get us to this point,” Corbett said on Thursday. “It’s good to see this bill making its way through the House of Representatives, and we hope it can have the same type of bi-partisan support it did in the Senate.”

In mid-May, the Senate passed its own Water Resources Development Act of 2013 by a vote of 83-14.

The Senate version of the bill authorized certain water projects approved by the Army Corps of Engineers, though the bill did not specifically name the projects. The House version names them.

The House bill calls for the authorization of a project on the Cedar River at Cedar Rapids, which the bill estimates will cost $103.4 million, $67,216,000 in federal dollars and $36,194,000 in non-federal dollars.

The city is hoping that state funds from a new state flood-protection program will help provide some of the non-federal dollars.

“The federal government, they’re in the driver’s seat, and the state government is sitting right next to them,” Corbett said. “We’re kind of in the back seat. We just don’t have local resources to fund the project without their help.”

Jeff Gertz, spokesman for U.S. Rep. Bruce Braley, on Thursday called it “a good sign” that the House has introduced a water-resources bill, which is the principal way Congress authorizes flood-protection projects. Congress has not passed such a bill since 2007, he said.

“Getting Cedar Rapids and the Cedar River in this bill is an important example of progress,” Gertz said. “The fact that this bill was introduced is hopefully a sign of some forward momentum of getting a water resources bill passed into law.”

The bill to authorize water projects and then a subsequent Congressional action to fund projects has a long way to go, he added.

“But it’s really not an optional piece of legislation,” he said. “It needs to get done. Rep. Braley has been pushing hard for progress on this. And we’re hopeful this represents forward progress on passing this bill into law.”

Gertz said the bill begins its consideration in the House Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment from where it goes to the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and on to the full House.

Any subsequent funding bill would be at least a year off, Gertz said.

The federal government’s current 2013 fiscal year ends on Sept. 30, and Gertz said the funding issue on the front burner now is passage of a continuing resolution to keep the government open and current programs funded.

Also taken up much of Congress’ time right now is the civil war in Syria and whether Congress should support a United States military strike there. But Congress is working on more than Syria, Gertz said.

“If we’re going to get through some of the tough challenges that are facing our country, Congress is going to have to walk and chew gum at the same time,” he said. “That’s what Rep. Braley has been committed to, whether it’s the water resources bill, the farm bill or any number of other pieces of legislation.”

The five flood-risk management projects in the the House water resources bill in addition to the Cedar Rapids project are a $23.8-million project at Topeka, Kan.; a-$1.4 billion one in the American River watershed in California; a $1.8-billion project in Fargo, N.D., and Moorhead, Minn.; and a $19.8-million project on the Ohio River at Paducah, Ky.

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