Harkin Thinks UI Will Get FEMA Funding; Not So Sure About Cedar Rapids West-Side Levee
By James Q. Lynch, Reporter
CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa - Sen. Tom Harkin is confident Congress will fund the majority share of the Army Corps of Engineers’ $104 million plan to protect the east side of Cedar Rapids.
However, he’s “less hopeful” about flood protection for the west side of the community.
“There’s no problem with the east side” of the Cedar River that runs along downtown Cedar Rapids, Harkin told The Gazette Editorial Board July 13. “But we have a little bit more work to do there with the west-side levees.”
The situation with funds for flood recovery at the University of Iowa in Iowa City is “still kind of touchy” after a meeting between Iowa congressmen and FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate July 11. The UI and the congressmen hope to change a recommendation from the Department of Homeland Security Office of the Inspector General recommendation, which threatens replacement decisions of the Hancher-Voxman-Clapp and Art Building East facilities that were damaged in the 2008 flooding.
The inspector general’s position is that those facilities should be repaired. Following that recommendation would result in the federal government taking back $25 million already spent towards new buildings. That money would be wasted and the timeline for recovery delayed, according to Harkin, Sen. Chuck Grassley and Rep. Dave Loebsack, who all met with Fugate.
However, FEMA’s initial response was to disagree with the inspector general. Harkin and other lawmakers urged Fugate to take that position in the intra-department dispute.
“FEMA has taken the correct position,” Harkin said. “Spending tens of millions of dollars to repair damaged buildings that may well flood again is neither in the interests of the university nor those of taxpayers. In addition, the inspector general’s assumptions on initial savings are likely overstated because repair costs will be higher given that these buildings have been vacant for a long time.”
He promised to continue to support FEMA’s current position of providing funding for new facilities outside the 100-year flood plain.
If the Office of the Inspector General doesn’t accept FEMA’s recommendation, it can appeal the decision or drop it, Harkin said.
“If they appeal, we’ll make our case one more time,” Harkin said. “I believe, in the end, wed are going to prevail.”
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