Federal Money Fading? Corps of Engineers Report States Flood Prevention Doesn't Meet Required Ratio

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By Chris Earl

The city of Cedar Rapids is moving ahead with voluntary buyouts for some flooded property owners. Yet securing federal money to protect the city from future flooding may not happen.

"The preliminary analysis is clearly not what we are looking for," said Jim Prosser, Cedar Rapids city manager.

"We always knew it was going to be an uphill battle to get federal funding," said Mayor-Elect Ron Corbett.

Here's what makes it an uphill battle: Federal law requires a project to reach a 1:1 Benefit-to-Cost Ratio, amounting to $1 dollar of benefit for every $1 spent. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' preliminary report came back with a 0.5 BCR -- $1 dollar of benefit for every $2 dollars in cost.

"We asked the Corps that question and I think their formula, prescribed by federal law, uses a 50-year-period to look at damages," said Cedar Rapids Public Works Director Dave Elgin.

Elgin said the problem is the Flood of 2008 is seen as an extraordinary event, with the thinking that a 500-year flood would be very unlikely to return.

"When you look at those numbers, it really reduces those numbers when you plug it into their damage estimate formula," said Elgin.

"It would have given us one more piece, one more argument to be funded," said Corbett. "That doesn't lessen the fact that we still want to make sure the people and citizens of this community are protected."

Mayor-Elect Corbett cited the need for aggressive water management upstream of the Cedar River and for Congressional support from U.S. Senators Chuck Grassley and Tom Harkin and Congressmen Dave Loebsack and Bruce Baley if there is a chance for federal money.

"For the citizens, we need to bring some closure to this flood saga that they've been during for 18 months," said Corbett.

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