Cedar Rapids to get millions from the federal government for flood prevention

U.S. soldiers assigned to the Iowa Army National Guard assist local police with traffic and crowd control as search and rescue teams patrol flooded streets in search of stranded citizens in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on June 12, 2008. — photo by Staff Sgt. Oscar Sanchez, public domain

Ten years after the biggest flood in Cedar Rapids history, the city will finally be receiving long sought after federal funds for a flood control system. On Thursday, the Army Corps of Engineers announced it was awarding Cedar Rapids $117 million for its planned flood control project.

“The announcement of this federal funding award to Cedar Rapids marks a milestone in the City’s long history of pursuing permanent flood control,” Jeff Pomeranz, Cedar Rapids city manager, said in a press release. “This award is federal recognition and acknowledgement that Cedar Rapids’ project is viable, has been planned, and is ready to implement to protect citizens and property.”

As recently as last month, the Cedar Rapids flood control project was being used as an example of needed flood prevention projects that were unlikely to receive federal money. In part, that was because the two-stage cost-benefit analysis — the first conducted by the Corps of Engineers, the second by the federal Office of Management and Budget — used to select which projects receive funds favored areas with real estate prices above than the national average. That means projects in coastal states with higher costs of living were more likely to qualify than Midwestern states.

“We as a community have every intention of moving forward, but the lack of federal funds will make it very difficult for our community, for our taxpayers,” Pomeranz told CQ Magazine in June. “And it’s going to keep us, also, in limbo without an answer to this question, which we think will affect our economy and jobs in our community. So we absolutely need this federal support.”

According to the city’s press release, “City Manager Pomeranz and Mayor Hart give much of the credit to Senator Joni Ernst, who has been an outspoken champion for Cedar Rapids in Washington DC.”

“In addition to efforts by the city and state governments, for years, I have pushed the Corps to review its flawed benefit-cost ratio (BCR) metrics, which disadvantage projects in rural states, and find a way to fund projects like this,” Ernst said in her own press release on Thursday. “I am proud to see our combined efforts pay off today — this funding will not only protect the city, but also give businesses the certainty they need to confidently invest in the Cedar Rapids community.”

The estimated cost of the city’s planned flood control system is $550 million. In addition to the just-announced federal money, funding for the project includes $267 million pledged by the state of Iowa, and $110 million budgeted by the city. That still leaves a shortfall of $56 million.

At the end of its press release, the city acknowledged “there is still a need for funding to complete the entire permanent flood control system.”