Cedar Rapids Receives $13.8 Million from FEMA for Hydroelectric Plant

By Rick Smith, Reporter

One of the three large bar screens (bottom right) that filtered out debris from the hydroelectric plant on the Cedar River was damaged in an ice event in January 2007, and the plant remains disabled. Photographed on Wednesday, June 26, 2013, in Cedar Rapids. (Liz Martin/The Gazette-KCRG)

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By Kayleigh Milas

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa — The Federal Emergency Management Agency headquarters in Washington, D.C., informed the city on Tuesday that it is sticking by decision to reimburse the city for $13.8-million in flood damages to the city’s hydroelectric plant at the base of the 5-in-1 bridge.

"I would say that’s good news, wouldn’t you?" Mayor Ron Corbett said via text message during a pause at a noontime engagement.

The damage award had been a back-and-forth close call for FEMA, in part, because the city’s long-underperforming plant, which opened in 1986, was disabled and out of commission at the time it was further damaged by the June 2008 flood.

The city’s argument, though, prevailed. It insisted that the city was planning to fix the plant at the time of the flood and so the plant qualified for FEMA disaster dollars.

FEMA’s regional office in Kansas City, Mo., had disagreed and determined that the plant did not qualify for FEMA disaster payments, but FEMA headquarters subsequently decided that the plant did.
However, in May 2013, FEMA’s Office of Inspector General (OIG), FEMA’s own internal watchdog, concluded that Cedar Rapids should not receive disaster money for the hydroelectric plant, and OIG called on FEMA headquarters to review its decision.

FEMA headquarters now has conducted a review and informed OIG that it, not OIG, is correct and so headquarters will follow through on its plans to award Cedar Rapids disaster payments for the hydroelectric plant. OIG has closed the matter and not chosen to appeal to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security for its determination.

The $13.8-million disaster award will translate into a somewhat smaller amount of money because the city is using the funds for an alternate project, as permitted by federal law, and not to fix the hydroelectric plant.

In this case, the city will use the money for the new parking ramp now under construction on the south side of downtown.

An adverse ruling from FEMA headquarters would have left the city to scramble to find money for the parking ramp project.

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