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FEMA Again Rejects Cedar Rapids Plan for Time Check Recreation Center

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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa - For a second time in a month, regional representatives of the Federal Emergency Management Agency in Kansas City, Mo., on Tuesday told the Cedar Rapids City Council that they will not support the city's plan to replace the flood-destroyed Time Check Recreation Center with a new $3-million facility built in the 100-year flood plain.

All nine members of the council participated in the Tuesday morning teleconference with FEMA representatives to make the council's case that the need to replace the recreation center in the same spot where it once stood outweighed the concerns about rebuilding in a spot in the flood plain, where the 2008 floodwaters in the city reached 14 feet by some accounts.

FEMA representatives had no time for the insistence of council members, saying that federal rules prohibit such construction if a "practicable" option outside the 100-year flood plain is available.

In the face of council persistence, Bob Bissell, FEMA's regional mitigation division director, minced no words. Bissell said the nation's flood insurance program is running a deficit of $17 billion, with another $20 billion likely to be added as a result of the recent Superstorm Sandy disaster on the East Coast.

Bissell said the nation needed to look at "the bigger picture," stop building in risky 100-year flood plains and do what's best "for all of us."

Council member Don Karr, who often notes as he did in Tuesday's teleconference that he grew up in the Time Check neighborhood, dismissed Bissell's comments, saying that building the recreation center in the 100-year flood plain was "about people, and people do live on rivers."

At one point, one of the FEMA representatives took exception to Karr's characterization that FEMA had not helped the city rebuild better than it had been. Other council members were quick to note that FEMA has helped the city.

After the teleconference, council members Scott Olson and Monica Vernon talked about appealing the FEMA regional office's position.

Olson, Vernon and council member Ann Poe were among council members who argued that replacing the recreation center nearly on the spot where it had been would put it near park land and existing basketball courts, playground equipment and a ball diamond and would help revitalize the neighborhood.

Much of the Time Check Neighborhood in northwest Cedar Rapids, which sits between the Cedar River and Ellis Boulevard NW, was destroyed by the 2008 flood, and most of the homes now have been demolished.

The FEMA representatives said the federal rules on rebuilding address elevation and placement in the 100-year flood plain, not proximity to a river.

After Tuesday's meeting, Linda Seger, president of the Northwest Neighbors Neighborhood Association, and Aggie Doyle, chairwoman of People For Parks, both said the best spot for the replacement recreation center remained in Time Check Park, where the old center had been.

Tuesday's teleconference was requested by the council and prompted by FEMA's letter to the city last month, in which FEMA said it would not approve spending FEMA disaster dollars on the recreation center if it's built in the 100-year flood plain.

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