Already a subscriber? Log in
- Unparalleled business coverage of the Iowa City / Cedar Rapids corridor.
- Immediate access to subscriber-only content on our website.
- 26 issues per year delivered digitally, in print or both.
- Support locally owned and operated journalism.
As Cedar Rapids, state and federal officials gathered Tuesday to celebrate the completion of a retractable flood gate across First Avenue East, they also announced a federal funding boost of more than $180 million to help complete the city’s flood control infrastructure project along the east bank of the Cedar River. Representatives of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, federal elected officials and local political leaders led a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the flood gate, and all pointed to the spirit of cooperation that has propelled the city’s ongoing recovery and protection efforts in the wake of the devastating 2008 flood. “The collaboration of the federal government (and) the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is invaluable to us,” Cedar Rapids mayor Tiffany O’Donnell said Tuesday. “We look forward to continuing this tremendous relationship as we build on the rest of the system. Not only is the system crucial for protecting our city and our residents, it is a vital investment in improving our resilience to climate hazards and promoting environmental justice by reducing disparities in health outcomes, promoting economic growth and improving the quality of life for all of our residents.” The additional funding is being provided through the bipartisan balanced budget act passed in 2018. The federal government’s financial commitment now totals $306 million toward a Cedar Rapids flood protection system with a planned overall price tag of $750 million, with inflation taken into account, and project completion anticipated in the mid-2030s. The now-completed First Avenue flood gate, with a $4.125 million price tag, is designed to protect the city from a water volume equal to the 2008 flood. The roller gate is stored in place and can be rolled across First Avenue, closed and locked in about an hour. It measures 12 feet high, 82 feet long and six feet thick and weighs 57,000 pounds, officials said. The city’s flood recovery formally began in 2013, when the state’s Flood Mitigation Board awarded the city with a 20-year, $264 million commitment to flood protection, and the city council formally approved a permanent flood protection plan in 2015, leading to the beginning of floodwall construction in 2016. U.S. Rep. Ashley Hinson, the congressional representative for Cedar Rapids and the state’s Second District, termed the completion of the flood gate “a major milestone when it comes to flood risk management for Cedar Rapids.” “Congratulations to everyone here today who helped to make this project a reality,” Ms. Hinson said. “We can't predict the weather, as we know. But what we can do is we can be prepared. We can control how prepared we are for severe weather, we can control how prepared we are for flooding, and completion of this project is really mission-critical to that preparedness mission. And as everyone knows, we are no stranger to natural disasters or flooding here. The flood of 2008 had such a lasting impact on this community.” Michael Connor, Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works, noted that extreme weather events have dramatically impacted the Mississippi River basin in recent years, bringing events ranging from near-drought conditions to substantial flooding incidents. “The reality is that most projects that we have are the result of some significant event in the past, and it's a race against time as we try to beat the next extreme weather event that's coming our way,” Mr. Connor said. “We understand that climate change is driving this boom-bust cycle of extreme weather events … Extremes are the norm. We understand that now. And that just increases the urgency for both starting and finishing projects such as the Cedar Rapids flood risk management project. The good news is, there is strong support across the board. This is not ideological, this is not political. There is strong support over the last several years, and I think that will continue, because it needs to continue, given the magnitude of needs that are out there.” Maj. Gen. Diana Holland, Mississippi Valley Division Commander for the Corps of Engineers, who has led the Corps’ flood protection efforts in Cedar Rapids in recent years, also pointed to the spirit of cooperation that’s brought the project this far. “The citizens of Cedar Rapids deserve a modern system that will protect their city from the type of catastrophic flooding that we've seen in recent years,” said Ms. Holland, noting she’ll soon transition out of her current role. It’s gratifying to be a part of a milestone event, signaling irreversible momentum.” Cedar Rapids city manager Jeff Pomeranz hearkened back to the city’s early response to the 2008 flood. “We started off with obviously a devastating flood,” Mr. Pomeranz said. “There wasn't any funding in place, there wasn't a plan in place. But we developed a partnership between our city and the Corps of Engineers, and look at where we are today. Even though certainly taken a while. I think that we have moved forward at a very fast pace, considering the magnitude of what we had to deal with as far as the planning and development, and now the implementation of this protection system.” Work continues on the flood protection system on both sides of the Cedar River, though flood protection on the west side of the river isn’t eligible for federal funding due to the Corps’ cost-benefit evaluation. It's being funded primarily through local bonding.