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

Archive for April 15th, 2009|Daily archive page

Library Board and City Council will ask FEMA to let the city replace its flood-damaged library with a new downtown library at a new downtown site

In Cedar Rapids Library Board, City Hall, FEMA, Floods on April 15, 2009 at 9:30 pm

The city’s library board wants to replace its flood-damaged main library with a new library at a different downtown site. And at the board’s request, the City Council last night signaled it will formally ask the Federal Emergency Management Agency to support the idea, most of the cost of which FEMA disaster-relief funds would pay.

FEMA’s determination that the library sustained more than 50 percent damage in the 2008 flood — a crucial conclusion reached after much negotiation with the city — allows the city to ask that FEMA provide disaster-relief funding to build a new library elsewhere. A damage assessment under 50 percent would have forced the city to repair the library where it is at if it used FEMA funds. FEMA now also could back building a new library where the current one is.

FEMA would pay 90 percent of the cost and the state of Iowa 10 percent, though costs over and above a similar-kind of library could fall on the local community, Doug Elliott, library board vice president, told the council last night. Elliott said it wasn’t a “foregone conclusion” that the library site would move even if that is what the library board wants to do.

Earlier Wednesday, Susan Corrigan, the president of the city’s library board, said the library board’s intent, as it waits to hear from FEMA, is to quickly begin a public participation exercise. The library board will want to know where a new library might go, what should be in it and what it should look like.

Corrigan said the library board has adopted “guiding principles” for a new library at a new site, three of which are key: That it be somewhere that won’t flood. That it be centrally located in or near downtown. And that it has plenty of parking.

Corrigan noted that the definition of downtown is different for different people, but she said the board is looking on the east side of the Cedar River where future flooding may be less of an issue than on the west side of the river.

In recent months, the City Council, with the help of the city’s Community Development Department, has taken a look at possible downtown parcels on which the city can build a new Intermodal Transit Facility and other possible public buildings.

The council has picked a two-block area now occupied by a Pepsi warehouse and maintenance operation between Fifth and Sixth avenues SE as its first choice to build with the second choice being the site of TrueNorth, which is on Fourth Avenue SE across from Greene Square Park.

Corrigan said the library board was aware of sites that the City Council had been looking at and is “open” to those and others.

One estimate, she noted, is that a new library might cost $24 million, while repairing the existing library was estimated to cost perhaps $17 million. But she said the latter number was “irrelevant” now because the library is not going to simply be repaired as it had been.

She said the library board is looking for “a fresh start.”

“Whatever we’re going to do, we’re going to do the right, long-term thing,” she said.

Corrigan said she would like to see the new library completed or well on its way to being completed by 2011.

Perhaps, another entity might be located at a downtown library, she said, but she added that the library board would want to make sure the library is the dominant partner in any sharing arrangement.

“When you walk in, you know it’s a library,” she said.

“I would like it to be spectacular looking with parking,” Corrigan emphasized. “We have to solve the parking issue.”

She said the library needed at least 200 parking slots, but said a parking ramp might be one way to get them.

The library board’s Elliott told the council last night that the board understood that the council was set to being its own public participation process to look at the future of other flood-damaged city buildings like City Hall and the existing federal courthouse which the city will take ownership of in 2012 when the new courthouse is in place.

Elliott, though, said the library board is interested in pursuing a more “aggressive” timeline in its public input process. The council has talked about a six- to nin-month process.

Petite woman from Nevada shows sturdy public works crews how simple it is to set up Tiger Dam temporary flood protection

In City Hall, Floods on April 15, 2009 at 8:41 pm

Last year’s disastrous flood could not have seemed farther away: The spring sky on Wednesday was blue, the sun warm, the nearby Cedar River lazily gliding by.

Yet a burly force of city Public Works Department employees were preparing for the worst.

They unfurled several 50-foot sections of orange bladders in a parking lot at Ellis Park, guided the bladders into place — two next to one another and a third on top — and filled them with water from a nearby fire hydrant.

This system of water-filled bladders, trademarked Tiger Dams, will be the principal piece of additional, new, temporary flood protection for the Time Check Neighborhood should the Cedar River threaten once again to spill into the neighborhood.

After Wednesday’s trial run, Mike Kuntz, the city’s sewer superintendent, said he was confident city crews could set up a line of Tiger Dams without difficulty for the 1,900-foot stretch in which they will be used at this spot in the city. The city will use a system of metal baskets filled with dirt elsewhere to temporarily protect the downtown and Czech Village.

“I was skeptical if we would be able to do it as rapidly as necessary,” Kuntz said of setting up the Tiger Dams. “But I’m pleased how well this has gone. I have no doubt we will be able to do it and do it well.”

As if to intentionally make the point, the maker of the Tiger Dams, U.S. Flood Control Corp., Carson City, Nev., sent Cheryl Witmer, company business developer and product trainer, to Cedar Rapids to train Cedar Rapids’ city crews in the use of the system.

Witmer is sufficiently petite that she was hard to spot amid the 30 or so sturdy city crew members.

“Don’t pull it by the edges,” Witmer instructed the crew members. “If you pull it by the edges you’re just going to make it ugly and wrinkly.”

Her central point, the city’s Kuntz said, was that the bladder that sits on top of two others needs to be positioned correctly as it starts to fill with water.

But Witmer said having her lead the demonstration helps to drive home the message that installing the flood barriers is so simple “a girl can do it.”

“That’s the beauty of it. It’s light, it’s easy and you don’t need any heavy equipment,” Witmer said.

Each 50-foot section of bladder weighs 65 pounds, but when each is unfolded and filled with water, they weigh 6,300 pounds. “That’s a great deal of weight and a great deal of security,” Witmer said.

The city has purchased 282 of these 50-foot sections, at a cost of $375,000. They will provide 1,900 feet of protection from the existing earthen levee at Ellis Lane NW down Ellis Boulevard NW to Penn Ave. NW. At that point, the Tiger Dams will tie into the existing levee along First Street NW in a way that should protect this part of the city to a river height of 24 feet.

That is four feet higher than the city’s previous record flood, but still seven feet below the historic flood of 2008. Providing temporary protection to the 2008 flood level is far too costly. A proposed permanent flood protection system, which could cost $1 billion, is the long-term solution for the city’s flood-protection needs.

Witmer said the Tiger Dams have been used in hurricane country in Louisiana, Florida and Texas as well for flash flooding in Nevada and river flooding in several states and Canada. Private corporations also use them. She said Walmart used the product to protect a store in Ames, Iowa.

Once set up, the Tiger Dams can remain in place for a couple months and can be reused. They also can be filled with a saline solution so the water in them freezes at a lower temperature than 32 degrees, though Cedar Rapids’ flood season usually comes later.

In purchasing the Tiger Dams and the second system, called Hesco Concertainers, the city acknowledged that it might never have to use them between now and the day, perhaps eight to 10 years from now, when a permanent system is in place.

“That’s the hope,” the city’s Kuntz said. “We hope we never have to use them.”

City wants to find its champion trees and is launching a contest to find them

In City Hall on April 15, 2009 at 8:35 pm

City arborist Daniel Gibbins and Trees Forever of Marion want to find the biggest trees of different tree species in Cedar Rapids.

And they are holding a “champion-tree” contest to help in the task.

Both the owner of each of the biggest trees and the person who nominates the tree if other than the owner will receive a champion certificate.

Gibbins, who started on the job with the city of Cedar Rapids in January, also will check with the National Big Tree Registry, which is sponsored by the American Forestry Association, to see if any local champion trees qualify as national champions.

Nominations are due on May 15 with winners announced at a special event on June 19 at the city’s Ushers Ferry Historic Village.

Contestants can fill out a nomination form at

Send questions to Ashley Green at Trees Forever, 373-0650 extension 25.