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

Archive for April 1st, 2009|Daily archive page

City officials say temporary, multimillion-dollar flood protection systems they purchased did yeoman’s duty on the Red River of the North

In City Hall, Floods, Jim Prosser on April 1, 2009 at 4:54 pm

Two Cedar Rapids city staffers have trekked to Fargo, N.D., and Moorhead, Minn., to see how those cities’ temporary flood-protection systems stood up against the Red River of the North.

The systems included the use of Hesco wire baskets that are filled with sand and rubber bladders filled with water, both of which the city of Cedar Rapids has purchased for temporary flood protection.

In an discussion Wednesday with The Gazette’s editorial staff, Dave Elgin, the city’s public works director, and Craig Hanson, the city’s public works maintenance manager, said they are satisfied with how the two systems worked up north and are satisfied the city made the right purchase for temporary flood protection for Cedar Rapids.

Elgin put the price tag on the city’s purchase at about $5 million, a purchase that includes additional pumps to protect the city up to a flood level of 24 feet. That level is two additional feet above what the city’s flood-action plan can protect today and four feet above what had been the city’s historic flood level. But it is seven feet lower than the level of the 2008 record flood here. Providing for temporary at the level could cost $360 million, the city officials estimated.

Hanson noted that both the Hesco baskets and the rubber bladders had their surprises in Fargo and Moorhead, but those are surprises that aren’t likely to happen here.

For instance, the water in the bladders froze up north, and frozen water floats, Hanson noted. Flooding in Cedar Rapids doesn’t usually include freezing temperatures.

Hanson noted, too, that the Hesco baskets may have tipped a bit up north in certain spots as the ground underneath them got muddy. The plan in Cedar Rapids, he said, it to place the Hesco defense on sidewalks and streets if possible.

The city intends to use the Hescos to protect both sides of the river through the downtown and at Czech Village and to use the water-filled bladders in the Time Check area.

Elgin noted that the Red River up north drains a watershed much, much larger and flatter than the Cedar River that runs through Cedar Rapids. As a result, cities along the Red River have more time to prepare for flooding because the river rises more slowly.

Here, the city has two to three days to prepare for a flood, Elgin said.

Elgin, Hanson and City Manager Jim Prosser stressed that a temporary system of flood protection has a lot of moving parts as a city deals with flood water, rain water behind the temporary protection and water filling sewers with no place to go.

“It’s more than just putting up barriers,” Prosser said.

Temporary protection, he said, will never do what the city’s proposed permanent system of levees and flood walls will be able to do.

At the same time, Prosser noted that the city’s current flood-action plan has worked well in recent years, at least until the June 2008 record flood.

Elgin pointed out that action plan easily handled a flood crest of 17.1 feet last April without anyone here really noticing.

Elgin and Hanson talked about ice jams on the river here and how that can prompt early season flooding. A newly installed sewer shut-off value at Penn Avenue and Ellis Boulevard will prevent water from backing up into the storm sewer there in the event of ice dams, Hanson said.

No, Elgin added, he didn’t think the city would institute a blasting program to break up ice as they do in North Dakota.

The city already has received its purchase of water-filled bladders, called tiger dams. It’s shipment of Hescos will arrive in about a month, Hanson said. The Hescos had been expected last week, but the city diverted its shipment for use in Fargo.

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City Hall surveyed May’s Island’s elevation itself to prove it is outside 100-year flood plain; Local taxpayers save up to $3 million

In City Hall, FEMA on April 1, 2009 at 1:10 pm

The Federal Emergency Management Agency said May’s Island sits in the city’s 100-year flood plain, and City Hall has now proven to FEMA that it doesn’t.

The upshot: The city of Cedar Rapids will save up to $1 million and Linn County up to $2 million.

The saving comes because local jurisdictions must pay the first $1 million in renovation costs to a flood-damaged public building sitting in the 100-year flood plain. Such payments aren’t required for public buildings outside the 100-year flood plain.

Under the FEMA rule, the city of Cedar Rapids had been expecting to pay $1 million — $500,000 on flood-damaged contents and $500,000 on flood damage to the building – as part of FEMA’s payment to repair the Veterans Memorial Building/City Hall on May’s Island.

Likewise, Linn County faced the same $1-million burden for each of its two flood-damaged buildings on May’s Island, the Linn County Courthouse and the Linn County Jail.

Chuck Chaffins, FEMA’s infrastructure branch director in Iowa, was the first to make note that the city of Cedar Rapids had succeeded in challenging FEMA’s flood map that had put May’s Island in the 100-year flood plain. On Tuesday, Steve Estenson, Linn County’s risk manager, credited the city of Cedar Rapids with successfully challenging the FEMA flood map.

On Wednesday, Dave Elgin, the city of Cedar Rapids’ public works director, explained how the city had succeeded in seeking a “letter of map amendment” to Cedar Rapids’ National Flood Insurance Program flood map.

Elgin noted that FEMA itself issued a draft of the city’s new flood map two years ago, a map which put May’s Island outside the 100-year flood plain. Come last December, though, FEMA published the draft and May’s Island was back in the 100-year flood plain.

Elgin said the city then surveyed the island itself and found that its elevation is not in the city’s 100-year flood plain, but, in fact, is in the 500-year flood plain.

FEMA now has said it will amend the flood map to put May’s Island in its correct elevation standing the river, Elgin said.

The position outside the 100-year flood plain does not eliminate the city’s requirement to carry flood insurance on the building if it accepts FEMA funds to repair the building.

The city has put the damage estimate to the Veterans Memorial Building/City Hall at $20-plus million.