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

Archive for the ‘FEMA’ Category

City Hall confident on buyout money; but when it arrives, the legal hurdles will take a few to many months to jump, city reminds people

In CDBG, FEMA, local-option sales tax on July 1, 2009 at 11:01 am

News elsewhere in Iowa of small-sized buyouts of flood-damaged homes does not mean that the first round of buyouts in Cedar Rapids using funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency is not on track, Jennifer Pratt, the city’s development coordinator says.

Pratt on Wednesday said the city still expects to hear in August from FEMA on funds to buy out 167 properties closest to the Cedar River to make way for a riverside “greenway.”

The city intends to buy out ten times as many properties as the 167 in the greenway — 554 in a construction area needed to build a flood-protection system; and about 600 considered “beyond reasonable repair” that sit outside the greenway and construction area. The city will use federal Community Development Block Grant funds and revenue from the city’s local-option sales tax for those purchases. And every expectation is that there will be sufficient money to do the job, the city has said and Pratt repeated on Wednesday.

“It’s been so nerve-wracking getting to this point,” she said. “We just hope everything works out smoothly.”

Having said that, Pratt made clear a central point that she said those awaiting buyouts have been told and need to remember: No buyout check is going to show up in the mail quickly in any event.

Pratt said every buyout amounts to a “legal land transaction,” which can be slowed down by title problems and other legal issues.

In the best circumstances, she said it will take 60 to 90 days to get any property’s legal documentation in place before the buyout actually takes place once money arrives.

In worst cases, the entire process could take nine months, she said.

Included in the paperwork transaction is the need for each purchase to appear in front of the City Council on two separate occasions, Pratt said.

Renovation getting closer for smaller flood-damaged venues; Ellis pool, trails, police locker room, Jones golf clubhouse and Third Avenue parkade

In City Hall, FEMA, Floods on June 23, 2009 at 11:31 am

Having just passed the one-year mark of the June 2008 flood, the city is getting closer to beginning work to renovate a few of its smaller flood-damaged facilities.

This week, the City Council will hold a public hearing to discuss renovation plans for the flood-damaged Jones Golf Course/Clubhouse. The estimated cost of the work is $292,000.

Also, the council will hold a public hearing on a $330,000 repair of flood damage to the Cedar River Trail, the Sac and Fox Trail, the Ellis Trail and the A Street levee.

In addition, the council will hold a similar public hearing on July 8 to discuss repair plans for the flood-damaged Ellis Park pool, the cost of which is estimated at $367,000.

A second public hearing on July 8 will address $400,000 in repairs to the flood-damaged locker room area of the Police Department.

Also on that date is a public hearing on repairs for the flood-damaged Third Avenue SE Parkade. Renovation is expected to cost $731,000.

Meanwhile, City Hall on Tuesday is holding the first of three open houses to obtain public input as it decides what to do with the city’s major flood-damaged buildings, including the Veterans Memorial Building/City Hall, the library, the bus depot and Paramount Theatre. Other open houses will follow on Aug. 18 and Oct. 6.

Mr. $475-an-hour — who became Mr. $225-an-hour — still a vital cog in the city’s drive to get all it can from FEMA

In City Hall, FEMA, Floods on May 14, 2009 at 9:58 am

The City Council approved a contract extension last night for John Levy.

The extension takes Levy’s contract through June 30, adds $186,400 to the cost of it and brings the total cost to $786,400. The contract began Oct. 1.

Levy showed up at City Hall even as flood water was receding last June. He came with disaster experience from Hurricane Katrina and a message: Experience makes all the difference for cities if they are to make sure they get all they deserve in flood-disaster relief from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Levy was then an executive with an entity called Globe Midwest, and after the city hired him, he achieved a measure of celebrity when it became noted that the city was paying the firm $475 an hour for Levy’s services.

In the first three months after the flood, the city paid Globe Midwest $691,000.

The city had a parallel contract for other flood-recovery duties with a second disaster-services firm, Adjusters International, to which the city had paid $645,000 in the first three months of recovery.
Last September, the city put the contracts up for new bids. Several firms competed, but Adjusters International won one contract, and Levy, who created his own company, Base Tactical Disaster Recovery, won the second contract. The new contract, at least at its inception, called for Levy’s new firm to get paid $225 an hour for his services.

In a memo this week to the City Council, city staff members note that Levy’s current contract extended through Jan. 9, 2009, and had been extended twice, through May 9, at no additional cost.

The city says Levy matters.

At a Veterans Memorial Commission meeting earlier this week, Levy was center stage as commission members challenged City Manager Jim Prosser about why renovations to the city’s flood-damaged Veterans Memorial Building/City Hall on May’s Island hadn’t yet begun. The city has suggested the building has had $25 million in damage.

Prosser called on Levy.

Levy explained the negotiation that cities and FEMA engage in as they come to some agreement on how much damage has occurred to a building. The city has weighed in with its “worksheet” on the damages, while FEMA is still working on its worksheet. FEMA was preparing for a fourth visit to the building, he said. Negotiations then would follow. After that, a second process takes place in which the city presents its plan on how it will mitigate against flood damage to the building in the future, Levy said.

Prosser noted that the city estimates it may have as much as $500 million in damage to its public buildings and facilities. Moving FEMA by a few percentage points on the size of damages is worth millions of dollars to the city, he noted.

FEMA will pay $5 million more to control climate in six empty, flood-damaged buildings; work readying on one so Montessori can return to GTC space

In City Hall, FEMA, Floods on May 12, 2009 at 5:50 pm

The Federal Emergency Management Agency will continue to pay to control the temperature and interior climate of six unoccupied, flood-damaged city buildings through at least November 30, 2009.

The cost to continue the climate-control contract from June 1 though Nov. 30 is $5,012,526.

Four companies bid for the contract, with Munters Corp. Moisture Control Services, Amesbury, Mass., submitting the “most responsive” bid, according to city staff memo to the City Council.

Munters Corp.’s bid says the job will require $1.43 million in equipment and staff and another $3.58 million for fuel.

The six city buildings in need of climate control are the Veterans Memorial Building/City Hall; library; Paramount Theatre; the first-floor of the Public Works Building; the Ground Transportation Center bus depot; and the GTC’s Montessori School space.

As for the latter, it appears the school is readying to return to the space.

The City Council is expected to approve a professional contract with Ament Inc. for design and construction administration services as the flood-damaged GTC school space is renovated. The work is expected to start in September and be complete in June 2010. Ament will receive up to $198,424 for its services.

Vets Commission asks: Why is Linn County back in the May’s Island courthouse and jail while the Veterans Memorial Building/City Hall sits empty?

In City Hall, FEMA, Veterans Memorial Commission on May 12, 2009 at 9:24 am

Three government buildings damaged in last June’s flood sit on May’s Island in the middle of the Cedar River.
Why is it that the Linn County Courthouse and the Linn County Jail are now back in business, while the Veterans Memorial Building that houses City Hall remains empty with no plans for now to reoccupy it?

That is the question that Pat Reinert, a member of the city’s Veterans Memorial Commission and an assistant federal prosecutor in Cedar Rapids, wanted City Manager Jim Prosser to answer at the commission’s meeting Monday evening.

The answer provided by Prosser was this:

The city isn’t Linn County. The city has more than 10 times as much flood damage to its public buildings and facilities than the county. More damage means longer, more complicated negotiations with the Federal Emergency Management Agency over the amount of damages that FEMA will pay to fix the building.

To this, commission member Gary Grant stressed to Prosser that the commission does not care if city government intends to return to the building.

“We think the building has great potential even if the City Council doesn’t come back,” Grant told Prosser.

All the commission wants is to be included in the planning for the building’s future, Grant and Reinert said.

This is one of the central rubs about the Veterans Memorial Building/City Hall that only has become exacerbated as the months have passed.

The City Council has never expressed any enthusiasm for returning to the building.

Prosser on Monday evening reminded the commission members that the City Council is embarking on a several-month public participation process to determine the futures of several of the city’s flood-damaged public buildings. Much of the talk over many months now has been about “co-locating” city, county and school functions in the same buildings. The county, which seemingly had the most potential synergies with the city, dropped out of the process a few months ago, and the City Council has used the word co-locate less if at all recently.

Prosser emphasized last night that he and the City Council go into the public participation process without any idea if city government will return to the Veterans Memorial Building/City Hall or not.

But as he and several council members repeatedly mention, one important factor will be the life-cycle costs of buildings. This often has seemed a euphemism in favor of building a new, “greener,” more efficient building than the existing City Hall.

Last week, though, council member Tom Podzimek said no one was going into the decision-making over buildings with any preconceived notions. At the same time, council member Kris Gulick said he wanted to make sure that the cost to retrofit existing buildings was factored into any analysis.

Monday evening’s commission meeting was eye-opening because it showed just how great a gulf exists between the city’s Veterans Memorial Commission of volunteer appointees and the paid machinery of city government.

Prosser, Casey Drew, the city’s finance director, and John Levy, a city consultant who is helping direct the city’s plans for its flood-damaged buildings, came armed with much information that, surprisingly, eleven months after the flood, was news to the commission. It was as if the Veterans Memorial Building/City Hall, the management of which the commission is responsible for, was a great mystery and Prosser, Drew and Levy were sharing some of the secrets.

Commission members were a bit testy and eager to let Prosser know that it was time to get moving on repairing the building.

In fact, on its own, the commission has been trying to hustle around to establish temporary electrical service to the building just so government –even if FEMA was paying the bill — could stop paying huge bills to run generators.

The city can’t just do nothing and let the building continue to “degrade,” Reinert said at one point.

“Quite frankly, it’s driving me insane,” he said.

The exercise in establishing temporary electrical service at a cost of about $9,000 has proven a bit of a comedy: Prosser and Drew said written bids weren’t used, and Drew explained that two commission-employed maintenance workers had their city-issued purchase cards revoked because they attempted to pay for services before they were provided against city policy. All of this is getting cleaned up.

Commission chairman Pete Welch listed on the commission agenda all the special state grants that the city secured for other local buildings: $5 million for the library; $10 million for a new human services building; $10 million for the National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library; $5 million for Options of Linn County; $5 million for the Paramount Theatre; $5 million for the Public Works Building; $16 million for the downtown steam issue. And zero for the Veterans Memorial Building/City Hall.

Commission member Gary Craig acknowledged that he had seen a city list that had sought $5 million for City Hall, but somewhere along the line that amount failed to make the final list.

Reinert said the building might get more backing if it is called its real name, the Veterans Memorial Building.

The commission noted that $118 million in state IJOBs funds are available for other public projects on a competitive basis. Prosser said the city intended to present plenty of proposals to try to win some of the money.

This is “a really critical city facility,” the city manager said of the Veterans Memorial Building.

City Hall readies to review flood-insurance proposals; Linn supervisors are as eager to get huge costs waived by state insurance commissioner

In City Hall, FEMA, Floods, Linn County government on April 20, 2009 at 9:02 am

Local government is going to turn to the Iowa Insurance Division for help in confronting giant insurance costs that are required in exchange for accepting giant payments from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to fix flood-damaged city, county and school buildings.

Linn County Risk Manager Steve Estenson on Monday morning revealed potential annual insurance costs facing Linn County once it repairs and returns to the its courthouse and jail on May’s Island and to a few other county buildings flooded last June.

He put the first estimate of costs at about $600,000 a year, but a final total is not known other than it is not apt to be that high. That is, in part, because the county may not return to the Witwer Building downtown and it intends to move the flood-destroyed Options Building elsewhere. Even so, it will need to pay some flood insurance on the Options Building.

What the Linn supervisors were most interested in, though, was Estenson’s comment that the city, school district and county all are now planning to ask the state insurance commission for a waiver of some of the insurance costs. FEMA regulations permit such waivers, although they are not common.

The Cedar Rapids City Council said two weeks ago it was interested in exploring such a waiver.

The council is a step ahead of the supervisors. It already made a formal request for brokers to handle the city’s flood-insurance matters.

The council will be able to forgo much of the huge insurance costs this year because it will not be returning this year to City Hall, the library and Paramount Theatre, three city buildings flood-damaged in June 2008.

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.

Plenty of questions remain as deep-rooted boat-house community in flood-damaged Ellis Harbor works to return to some version of normalcy

In City Hall, FEMA, Floods, Jim Prosser on April 2, 2009 at 9:55 pm

The future is still murky for the Ellis Park Boat Harbor and the small, tightly packed little structures on the water there called boat houses.

The boat houses have been part of the local landscape for decades.

The June 2008 flood, though, bashed the little community, sending some of the houses down the river, crashing into a railroad bridge. Other houses were pushed up onto the river bank or otherwise damaged.

What had been 130 homes now is down to about 70.

After their meeting on Thursday, members of the city’s Riverfront Improvement Commission suggested that life will return to the remaining boat houses in some form this spring, but they said it likely will be 2010 before a semblance of normalcy was back in place.

This summer, owners of the boat houses look as if they will have to pay to restore temporary electric service to their homes until a longer-term, permanent service is installed.

Such a permanent solution will need to await the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the city coming to a decision on damages to the harbor and a plan of action to make repairs, council member Chuck Wieneke, who represents the west-side council district where the harbor is located, said after the Riverfront Improvement Commission on Thursday.

Wieneke said the current estimate is that the 2008 flood caused $1.8 million in damage to the public infrastructure in the harbor.

The boat house owners actually have endured two poundings. First there was the flood, and then an announcement in the wake of the flood by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources that the boat houses were illegal structures as set out by state regulations.

After much discussion between owners and the DNR, the DNR has decided to grant variances for a fee of $25 each to the owners to allow them to stay for now. In the meantime, the DNR said it will rewrite rules that will allow boat houses with roofs and sides to stay in the harbor. Boat house owners and commission members Carl Cortez and Jeff McLaud, though, said they still waiting to see the new rules.

Even with new rules, the DNR is insisting that the owners upgrade the way the houses are moored in the river, Cortez said, and the agency also is requiring that owners take better steps to insure that waste water in the form of sewage and shower/sink water not enter the river.

A problem a little farther down the road, said Cortez, is another DNR rule, which says owners’ boat houses must be removed from the harbor once they are sold or passed on to relatives or someone else. Unless changed, it is a rule that will guarantee the boat house community dies out.

The city now charges $360 a year for the typical boat house to sit in the Ellis Harbor, and Bob Fox, one of the house owners, told the commission that he is going to be reluctant to pay the fee if he can’t get electricity to his boat house this summer. Cortez said he wants to see his DNR variance permit before he invests money to temporarily restore electricity to his property.

In recent weeks, the City Council voted to step back and let the DNR take responsibility for the harbor.

On Thursday, though, members of the six-member Riverfront Improvement Commission, four of whom own boat houses, expressed a fresh sense of optimism after City Manager Jim Prosser attended the commission meeting and made some commitments to them.

Prosser heard first hand from Tom Furnish Jr., the commission chairman, and the others how frustrated the commission has been over some years now. The told Prosser how a City Council in recent years, but prior to his time, did away with the commission’s own paid staff and rolled the riverfront responsibility into the Parks and Recreation Department.

In the last couple years, City Hall has all but ignored the commission, members told Prosser.

“We just felt like we’ve been swimming upstream,” Furnish said. “… We were getting somewhat frustrated.”

Prosser made a commitment to the commission that he and council member Wieneke would identify a city employee to facilitate meetings between the commission and city staff. The exercise will try to bring some clarity and resources to the commission’s mission both at the harbor and at many other places along the city’s riverfront, Prosser said.

Commission member McLaud said he’d long had an interest in all parts of the river here, not just the harbor, and commission member Walter Cheney wondered how the commission could add members in the future.

Prosser told the commission that he would expect to start the exercise with the commission within 30 days and to have something accomplished in 90 days.

“I think you told us what we wanted to hear,” Furnish said.

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.