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

Archive for July, 2009|Monthly archive page

Brouhaha in Oakhill Jackson over weeds and native plants and the power of a City Council member to call in the mowers

In Jerry McGrane, Neighborhoods on July 22, 2009 at 8:57 pm

Mike Richards and Jerry McGrane are engaged in a spitting match over Poet’s Park.

The dispute – between the president of the Oakhill Jackson Neighborhood Association and his predecessor, now a City Council member — is over a small flower garden that sits with a landmark stone at 12th Avenue and Otis Road SE to tell passers-by that they are in the neighborhood.

The spot, created on city land several years ago by the neighborhood association, is now called Poet’s Park.

On Wednesday afternoon, Richards fired off a press release, saying that McGrane had inappropriately used his standing as a City Council member to call on the city’s Parks and Recreation Department to mow down what Richards says were native Iowa prairie plants at the site.

McGrane fired right back, saying he did nothing of the kind. He said he brought the park up to city staff a few weeks ago in a general discussion about maintaining the smaller parks in the city.

Further, he said “due to Michael Richards’ laziness” as the neighborhood president, the garden at the triangular intersection at 12th Avenue and Otis Road SE had all gone to weeds.

McGrane also disputed that there were many native plants at the site, “unless you want to call weeds native plants,” he said.

Richards fired back: Just because McGrane doesn’t know what native plants look like doesn’t mean they weren’t there, Richards said.

As Richards tells it, all this came to light on Wednesday when a team of AmeriCorps Green Corps members showed up at the park at Richards’ request to clean up and weed the flower garden. The city employee was just finishing up his mowing at the site, Richards said.

Tim Reynolds, one of the Green Corps members, late Wednesday afternoon said the space in question was home to native plantings. Three other areas in the park also have plots of native plantings, and he said the Corps members cleaned those up and put new mulch in them on Wednesday.

Richards thought there the plants had been permanently damaged, though Reynolds said they would grow back.

McGrane said he knows someone willing to donate money to replace what he says was weeds with new plantings.

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Solid waste agency prepares to capture methane at Site 2 landfill; plan is one day to convert it into energy

In Cedar Rapids/Linn County Solid Waste Agency, Tom Podzimek on July 21, 2009 at 5:37 pm

The Cedar Rapids/Linn County Solid Waste Agency is moving ahead to catch methane gas from its Site 2 landfill in a way that one day might turn generators to produce electricity.

The agency’s board on Tuesday said it hold a public hearing on Aug. 21 to discuss a proposal to install a gas collection system at the Site 2 landfill on County Home Road at Highway 13.

The cost of the system is expected to be $1.4 million, and it should be in place by January, consultant Brian Harthun told the board.

For now, the collected gas will be burned off, but the plan is to install engines to generate electricity, Tom Podzimek, Cedar Rapids City Council member and board chairman, noted.

Harthun estimated that the Site 2 landfill now would generate about 30 to 40 percent of the methane currently collected from the Site 1 landfill below Czech Village.

The Site 1 landfill had had been closed, but was reopened and remains open to take in debris from last year’s flood.

The agency board currently is in the middle of litigation over a contract dispute over the purchase of methane from the Site 1 landfill to produce energy. For now, the methane at Site 1 is being burned off.

City focuses anew on New Bohemia brownfields; contaminated soil at former Iowa Steel and Iowa Iron Works sites to be removed to ready for redevelopment

In New Bohemia on July 20, 2009 at 1:12 pm

City Hall is taking a fresh step in its decade-long plan to clean up nearly 50 acres of old industrial sites a few blocks from the edge of downtown.

By early August, a contractor will begin excavating “contaminated soil” at the sites of the former Iowa Steel plant and the former Iowa Iron Works plant, which straddle the 400 block of 12th Avenue SE. These sites are just up the street from a Third Street SE commercial strip now considered the heart of the New Bohemia arts and entertainment district.

The city’s work order calls for the first six feet of ground at the former Iowa Steel site at 415 12th Ave. SE to be removed and hauled to the local landfill and for the first three feet of ground at the former Iowa Iron Works site at 400 12th Ave. SE, likewise, to be removed and hauled to the local landfill.

At that point, tests will be conducted to make sure no additional contaminants remain in the soil. Further excavation will take place if there are additional contaminants.

Richard Luther, the city’s development manager, reported on Monday that Rathje Construction Co., Marion, submitted the apparent low bid for the project of about $42,000, nearly $30,000 below the engineer’s estimate for the work, he said.

The city’s bid documents call for the work to be completed by Sept. 30. Once completed, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources will issue a letter stating that no further action is necessary.

Luther said the two brownfield industrial sites can be redeveloped for commercial, office or residential use.

City documents note that the city is basing the scope of the excavations on an October 2005 report prepared by engineering firm Howard R. Green Co. of Cedar Rapids.

Of the two former metal plants, the Iowa Iron Works plant was demolished most recently, in the summer of 2001.

The city owns two other former industrial sites nearby, the empty former Quality Chef Co. building on Third Street SE and the empty former Sinclair meatpacking site at the end of Third Street SE.

Last week, council member Brian Fagan asked for updates on those two properties, both of which took on flood water in 2008. Fagan wondered when they might be demolished.

City announces fifth annual bow hunt of deer

In City Hall on July 20, 2009 at 11:22 am

The city will permit a fifth consecutive bow hunt of deer this fall and early winter.

The bow hunt season inside the city limits will run from Sept. 12 through Jan. 31.

To participate, hunters must complete an annual proficiency test and attend a class on the hunt’s rules and regulations. Hunters also must receive permission from private property owners to hunt of their property.

Proponents of the Cedar Rapids bow hunt – several Iowa cities including Coralville and Marion permit bow hunting of deer inside the city limits — say the hunt has reduced deer-vehicle crashes inside the city since its inception four years ago. That’s not to say vocal opponents of the hunt aren’t still out there.

At the conclusion of each of the previous four bow hunts, Fire Chief Steve Havlik, who oversees the bow hunt in Cedar Rapids, has reported that complaints about the hunt have been few and that there have been no injuries to people related to the shooting of arrows.

Bow hunters have killed 298, 333, 349 and, most recently, 314 deer in the four previous annual hunts.

In 2004, figures compiled by the city, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources and the Iowa Department of Transportation put the number of deer-vehicle collisions inside Cedar Rapids at 453. In 2008, the number was 250, the DNR reported.

For information on this year’s hunt, go to http://www.cedar-rapids.org/fire/urbandeerhunt.asp

City paints bike lanes on a stretch of Boyson Road NE to give the idea a try in city’s quest for bicycle-friendly status

In City Hall on July 16, 2009 at 6:04 pm

City Hall is still working to try to win bicycle-friendly status for the city.

It will apply to the League of American Bicyclists on July 31 and will submit a second part of the application Aug. 7 if the League gives the go-ahead.

Ron Griffith, a city traffic engineer who is leading the City Hall bicycle effort, showed the City Council a photo of freshly painted white bicycle lanes on a two-lane section of Boyson Road. The lines create a 6-foot-wide bike lane on both edges of the road while reducing the width of the lanes for motor vehicles to 12 feet.

As an aside, council member Chuck Wieneke wondered if city crews ought to get back out to Boyson and paint the yellow center line down the road. He could barely see it in the photo, he said.

Griffith also reported that 85 percent of the city’s buses now have bike racks on them; that the city is developing a comprehensive master trails plan; and the Mayor’s Bike Ride is slated for Sept. 7.

Only Cedar Falls among Iowa cities now holds the certification from the League of American Bicyclists as a bicycle-friendly community. It obtained the status this spring.

Another idea for affordable housing near Ellis Park isn’t going to work; city bought the land with state REAP grant to prevent it from being developed

In City Hall on July 16, 2009 at 5:30 pm

Another proposal — this one made public just a month ago — to build affordable housing in and around Ellis Park is apparently going to bite the dust quickly.

Johnny Brown of J Brown Development Group of Cedar Rapids had pitched an idea to build two buildings with 30 affordable apartments each on a 6-acre, tree-filled city site between Ellis Lane and the Ellis Park.

Brown was calling his idea Ellis Preserve. Bart Woods, president of Primus Construction, was working with him on some of the planning.

However, Julie Sina, the city’s parks and recreation director, reports that the city purchased the land in question with a state REAP — Resource Enhancement and Protection — grant to prevent to it from being developed.

Sina says the city would need to talk to state officials to see if it is possible and what the ramifications would be if the city now decided to sell the land purchased with REAP dollars.

“The city of Cedar Rapids Parks and Recreation Department has a good relationship with REAP and has received funding over many years for the preservation of land,” Sina says. “… The Parks and Recreation Department does not support the sale of this piece of property.”

Brown says the status of the city property isn’t lessening his concern for people who he says remain displaced by last year’s flood and still need affordable housing.

“There are a lot of families who are suffering,” Brown says. “And we’ve got to do something to help our fellow citizens. That’s who I am.

“We’ve got people who are hurting, and it doesn’t seem to register on anybody’s radar screen. But it’s going to stay on mine.”

An earlier plan by another developer to put affordable housing nearby on the former 6-acre practice chipping area next to Ellis Golf Course fell apart in the face of neighbor opposition.

Round 2 of demos start next week: 58 on the list with paperwork still out on another 12; 70 structures came down in a first round

In City Hall on July 15, 2009 at 4:11 pm

Next week, the city of Cedar Rapids will begin demolishing 58 more structures damaged in the flood of June 2008.

These are structures, most of which are homes, that the city has concluded pose a public-safety danger and need to come down. The city will seek reimbursement for the costs from the Federal Emergency Managment Agency because of the public-safety risk.

Another 12 properties may be added to the 58 in what is a second round of demolitions.

The city already has taken down 70 structures that were the worst of the worst damaged.

In total, the city plans to buy out some 1,300 properties, and the majority of those are expected to be demolished. Those demolished to date and those in this new round of demolitions are among those 1,300 or so properties.

The city has contracted with DW Zinser Co. of Walford, Iowa, to take care of the new round of demolitions. Work will start at 7 a.m. Tuesday with the structure at 1211 6th St. NW.

Others on the new list:

1312 4TH ST NW
1427 4TH ST NW
1657 8TH ST NW
1817 ELLIS BLVD NW
1832 ELLIS BLVD NW
305 G AVE NW
327 G AVE NW
402 I AVE NW
1206 3RD ST NW
1602 4TH ST NW
1664 1ST ST NW
306 N AVE NW
1007 3RD ST SW
1034 8TH ST NW
1106 2ND ST SE
1108 6TH ST NW
1122 I AVE NW
1217 4TH ST SE
1223 9TH ST NW
1233 10TH ST NW
1234 N ST SW
1306 9TH ST NW
1320 Ellis Blvd NW
1323 K ST SW
1428 2ND ST SW
1450 2ND ST SE
1501 J ST SW
1645 9TH ST NW
1702 2ND ST SW
1712 HAMILTON ST SW
2120 C ST SW
1906 C ST SW
217 7TH AVE SW
2333 ROMPOT ST SE
316 6TH ST SW
321 G AVE NW
411 6TH ST SW
427 G AVE NW
435 G AVE NW
622 5TH AVE SW
717 O AVE NW
72 18TH AVE SW
77 22ND AVE SW
81 18TH AVE SW
81 22ND AVE SW
816 8TH ST NW
825 SHAVER RD NE
826 6TH ST SE
1009 10TH ST NW
52 19TH AVE SW
821 4TH ST NW
814 L ST SW
1332 9th St NW
1211 6th St NW
1227 5th St SE
2207 D St SW
807 5th Ave SW
415 7th Ave SW

City Hall has firmed up what it expects to seek for some 1,300 flood-disaster buyouts: $148 million in CDBG funds to go with an expected $27 million in FEMA money

In City Hall, Floods on July 15, 2009 at 2:50 pm

The Iowa Department of Economic Development is finalizing plans for what it intends to do with the state’s latest disaster-related infusion — $517 million — of federal Community Development Block Grant funds.

In its initial draft, the state agency proposed using $245 million of the CDBG pot to buy out flood-damaged properties in the state.

For now, the $245-million figure is a good working one for the city of Cedar Rapids, which has firmed up what part of the pot it intends to request to help the city buy out about 1,150 flood-damaged properties, reports Jennifer Pratt, the city’s development coordinator.

Pratt says the city will seek a total of $148 million in CDBG for buyouts. Of that total, $66 million will be used to purchase 554 flood-damaged properties in what is expected to be the construction zone needed to build the city’s proposed new flood-protection system. Another $82 million will buy out an estimated 600 additional properties that are defined as “beyond reasonable repair.”

Most of a group of another 192 properties, which are heavily damaged and closest to the Cedar River, will be purchased using $27 million in Federal Emergency Management Agency funds to make way for a “greenway” along the river between the water and a new levee.

The city also is seeking funds from other parts of the $517-million CDBG pot, which will be designated for business recovery, infrastructure repair and housing rehabilitation.

Flood-damaged Grant Wood window at the Veterans Memorial Building is coming out for repairs; entrusted to a Davenport firm owned by a disabled Vietnam War vet

In City Hall, Veterans Memorial Commission on July 15, 2009 at 10:12 am

The flood-damaged, Grant Wood-designed window is coming out of the Veterans Memorial Building this week, each of its 58 stained-glass panels to be crated and driven to a studio in Davenport for repair.

The restoration work on the window, put in place in 1929, will take up to 34 weeks to complete at a cost of $147,000.

There may be additional costs to repair or replace the window’s wooden frame and to replace safety glass protecting both sides of the historic window, reports Mike Jager, the city’s veterans memorial director.

Glass Heritage LLC of Davenport bested four other design firms — including ones in Philadephia, Chicago and Kansas City — to win the job of fixing Grant Wood’s window.

John Watts, one of three founding owners of Glass Heritage, is a Vietnam War veteran who in his day has wrestled with the war effects of Agent Orange exposure and post traumatic stress disorder, he reports.

Because he is a veteran, Watts says the Veterans Memorial Building’s window — which features a huge image of a rising angel of peace “welcoming all veterans home” and also depicts soldiers from the nation’s six major wars through World War I — has special meaning to him.

“We are acutely aware that this is a one-of-a-kind piece,” says Watts. “Are we nervous about it? We’re nervous about every piece of glass we touch. If we weren’t, we wouldn’t be good.”

Watts says Grant Wood’s devotion to the land is reflected in the texture of the paint on the stained-glass window.

He says, too, that there is no question that the June 2008 flood damaged the window, causing bowing and some cracking in some of the 1,000 or more pieces of stained glass in the window.

Nonetheless, he says the window overall is in “decent shape” for its 80-year age.

“We’re just going to take it and give it a new life,” Watts says.

In the restoration, the cost of which a city insurance policy will cover, the city’s Jager says there is some thought be given to leaving damage in place in one small section of the window as a reminder of the flood.

Watts, 60, says he is originally from New York City. His life eventually took him to the Quad Cities, where he spent some years as director of operations at The Mark of the Quad Cities. Ten years ago, he decided to spend all his time working on stained glass, and he left The Mark to open his own business and store in Davenport with two other partners. He’s been working in stained glass for 28 years, he says.

Watts calls the work on fixing the Grant Wood window “meticulous.” He calls the window “amazing.”