The Gazette covers City Hall, now a flood-damaged icon on May's Island in the Cedar River

McGrane says federal funds might be available for city to get into the steam utility business

In Alliant Energy, City Hall, Downtown District, Floods, Jerry McGrane, Monica Vernon on January 21, 2009 at 3:13 am

The city of Cedar Rapids already has city-owned utilities -– a water plant, a waste-water treatment facility and a sanitary sewer and storm sewer system. It also considers its garbage pickup and recycling operation as a utility.

Council member Jerry McGrane on Tuesday suggested he might be pushing his council colleagues in the direction of creating another utility, one that would create steam for heat and other uses in and near the downtown.

McGrane made note of his lobbying trip to Washington, D.C., last week with council colleagues Justin Shields and Monica Vernon to talk to Iowa’s Congressional delegation and some federal agencies about federal funds to help Cedar Rapids with its flood recovery.

McGrane said the Cedar Rapids delegation was told that federal money might be available to support the reestablishment of a downtown steam system if the city itself actually was involved in the ownership of such a utility. The thought is the city could have a private entity run the operation and ultimately buy out the city’s investment after a number of years.

It remains to be seen: McGrane is more of a decisive voice on matters concerning neighborhoods and housing.

However, council member Monica Vernon said on Tuesday, too, that the city had to figure out a solution to the steam problem.

The problem exists because the June flood damaged Alliant Energy’s aged Sixth Street Generating Station, which had produced electricity and inexpensive steam and ran it through a network of Alliant steam pipes to Quaker and Cargill and other industries near downtown, to Coe College, the city’s two hospitals and the buildings downtown.

This winter, Alliant has created a temporary setup to provide the steam, but at a price four to five times the previous price with no promise of rebuilding to prior more reasonably priced steam again.

This week, Coe College and St. Luke’s Hospital announced plans to seek federal funds to build their own steam system, and they will be in front of the City Council tonight to talk about the plan.

The two entities, though, said this week they are still open to a broader solution to the steam issue, though Pat Ball, the city’s utility director, on Tuesday forewarned the council not to expect any big news at its meeting tonight.

An Alliant spokesman said the same.

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