Cedar Rapids to Spend $ 10.2 Million in US Rescue Assistance Plan for West Side Flood Protection

The installation of the “West Side Rising” sculpture on O Avenue NW in the Time Check neighborhood in Cedar Rapids continues in this June 7 photo. The sculpture is part of the Gateway to the River plaza, which commemorates the 2008 flood and connects the river to the Northwest Quarter. (The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS – Residents of the city’s northwest quadrant have long waited for their part of the city to receive permanent flood protection as they watch a system of walls, gates and levees pop up on the east side of the Cedar River . But construction of Cedar Rapids’ flood control system in their area will come sooner than expected, thanks to an allocation of $ 10.2 million in federal COVID-19 relief funds, city officials said on Monday.

The city has unveiled plans to spend $ 10.2 million of its nearly $ 28.2 million federal aid allocation from the American Rescue Plan Act to two projects in the Northwest Quadrant. The area continues to recover after being particularly affected during the 2008 floods, with several lots still vacant after the demolition of properties that suffered damage during the disaster.

Thirteen years after the flood, Al Pierson, president of the Northwest Neighbors Neighborhood Association, said that many here – including himself – had taken “a leap of faith to rebuild and reopen our homes and businesses” .

Pierson, owner of Pierson’s Flower Shop, said residents have confidence in the flood protection plan. They love the neighborhood, its history and even the river, which he says is “the reason people come here to live, play and work”.

“One of the most common questions I have had as a neighborhood president is, ‘When will we have flood protection? “, Said Pierson. “Well, it’s happening sooner than we thought. “

Al Pierson, owner of Pierson’s Flower Shop, stands on August 15, 2016, at the site of a memorial project for the recovery of west side neighborhoods devastated by the 2008 floods. The site, along O Avenue NW between Ellis Boulevard NW and Sixth Street NW in the Time Check neighborhood, since has been dedicated to the Gateway to the River. (The Gazette)

Federal funding through the Army Corps of Engineers only covers permanent flood protection on the east side of the river because of its cost-benefit formula – on the west side, the cost of adding flood control. flooding was greater than the value of the buildings it would protect, according to the formula.

But Mayor Brad Hart said the city is also engaged in the western part.

“After all, we’re all part of Cedar Rapids,” Hart said. “We are truly extremely grateful to have this funding available to us to help us meet many critical needs at Cedar Rapids. One of these critical needs is flood protection. This is important for the future of Cedar Rapids. This has stimulated a lot of development that we have already seen around the river and will stimulate further development.

When city council adopted the flood control system master plan in 2015, the city’s flood control director Rob Davis said it would take another 10 years before the first flood protection project will only start in the Northwest and Time Check neighborhoods, around 2025. This announcement accelerates the schedule to 2022, as it speeds up the design and construction processes.

Half of that allocation – which is on the agenda for consideration at Tuesday’s city council meeting – will go towards a project to raise a segment of Avenue O NW above a sea wall. An ADA accessible ramp will run from elevated O Avenue NW to the Northwest Gate and Memorial Square. It should start around summer 2020.

The funding comes at a key time for this segment of the flood control system, Davis said, as Penn Avenue NW and I Avenue NW are expected to close for future work, particularly the Ellis Boulevard NW extension. The construction of Avenue O NW and the dike work prior to these closures will ensure continuous access to the North West district.

The other half of the funds will give a boost to a reconstruction project on Ellis Boulevard NW, with a start expected in 2023.

The city removed previous plans for a flood wall across O Avenue NW coming onto Ellis Lane and a 16-foot-high gate, which Davis said would have been the tallest in the flood control system. Now Ellis Boulevard NW will swing west and rise gently above a sea wall with no walls or gates. The flood control segment will blend in with the greenery and provide an entrance to Ellis Park, Davis said, and the city will be able to improve the trails and sidewalks on Ellis Boulevard NW.

As COVID-19 has contributed to the rise in material costs and also affected the supply chain, Davis said it was important to speed up projects if possible.

“This is a big deal because it can really help us make sure we’re on time to complete this on or before the 2035 state funding stream,” Davis said, referring to the 15 million dollars per year that the city receives from reinvested growth. Initiative, a state program that helps Iowa communities manage flooding and allows Cedar Rapids to maintain increased sales tax revenue.

In addition, he said that this allocation allows the city to consider potentially using the state sales tax money for the construction of other projects in the overall flood control system and, in ultimately, to speed up the work of other sections.

Flood control had been identified by Linn City and County officials as a potential common area to spend federal relief funds, as the county has $ 44 million to allocate. Over the years, the city has asked for contributions for the flooding system, which – when built – will also protect some county buildings such as the jail and courthouse.

Hart told The Gazette that city staff continue to work with the county on allowances. While there is no commitment from the county at this time, Hart said his help with a flood control project would be “wonderful.”

Council member Tyler Olson, chair of the council’s flood control system committee, noted a slight increase in construction of permanent flood protection. Not counting federal funding, between fiscal years 2014 and 2017, the city spent over $ 45.5 million on the system. This has more than doubled in recent years, with more than $ 95.5 million spent from fiscal 2018 through fiscal 2021.

This adds up to nearly $ 141.1 million in total so far, with an additional $ 40 million and $ 51 million expected to be spent in budget years 2022 and 2023, respectively, not counting assistance from the Corps of the US Army or Rescue Plan.

“Obviously the main goal is a flood control system, but I really think city council looked at it from the perspective of a one-time opportunity every 100 years to create a $ 750 million amenity in full city center. “Olson said. we hope people are drawn from all over the area to come to Cedar Rapids and visit.

Comments: (319) 398-8494; marissa.payne@thegazette.com

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