FEMA Letter Should Spell End of Flooding Repair Funding Battle

By Dave Franzman

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa- The 6th anniversary of the flood of 2008 in Eastern Iowa is less than a month away. But Cedar Rapids still isn’t finished fighting with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) over the last of the flood recovery funding decisions.

The city needed emergency repairs to a vital incinerator at the Water Pollution Control (WPC) facility after the flooding. Expecting FEMA funding, the city spent about $17-million dollars for the repairs that were completed in March of 2009. But it’s take years to get a final funding decision from the federal disaster agency. A letter just last week appears to settle the question in the city’s favor.

Steve Hershner, Cedar Rapids Utilities Director, said more negotiations are still needed to come up with a final disaster dollar amount. But it looks as if the city, after two rounds of appeals, will get most of the money already spent returned.

The sewage treatment plant in Cedar Rapids produces 110 wet tons of biosolids a day after treatment. Facility operators have to get rid of it somehow.

So when flood water inside the plant wiped out millions of dollars in equipment and broke the huge 1,400 degree incinerator that burns up the solid waste, there was no hesitation. The city made repairs and trusted FEMA to follow up with funding.

“We started projects on the basis of that understanding and these appeals are setting the stage for what we believe will be substantial reimbursement for the city,” Hershner said.

Hershner said the initial FEMA recommendation was to make emergency incinerator repairs and then replace the entire unit. That would have cost about $63-million dollars.

After initially approving that amount, FEMA soon backed away from that promise and the city concentrated on getting the repair money covered instead.

Sandi Fowler, assistant Cedar Rapids city manager, said while the incinerator appeal lasted years, it’s not the final flood issue the city is still trying to settle with FEMA.

“The big one we think most of the public is interested in is the Time Check or now Northwest Recreation Center. It’s not necessarily an appeal but it’s the one project that we haven’t gotten that final ok from FEMA. We expect it any day,” Fowler said.

In the meantime, FEMA funding is paying most of the cost of a flood wall and berm project at Water Pollution Control that started last year. It’ll protect the plant from future flooding beyond the levels seen in 2008. It should wrap up by October.

l Comments: (319) 368-8611; dave.franzman@sourcemedia.net

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