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

Archive for the ‘Floods’ Category

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.

Day 1 for Eyerly as flood-recovery director; he’s looking ahead, not back; setting goals; wants to work himself out of a job in a year or two

In Floods, Greg Eyerly on July 13, 2009 at 4:43 pm

Greg Eyerly never seemed to fuss too much with the suit and tie the last 16 or so months when he was working on the front lines as the city’s utilities operations manager with an office at the Water Pollution Control facility.

Monday, his first full day as the city’s new flood-recovery director, had him dressed every bit the part of executive. His shirt couldn’t have been whiter, his tie nicer, the shine on the shoes shinier.

Eyerly is operating out of what had been a mini-conference room at the temporary City Hall in northeast Cedar Rapids. And right next door is the office of City Manager Jim Prosser, to whom Eyerly reports.

“I have a great working relationship with Jim Prosser,” he said. “I may disagree with him on some things, and I feel comfortable expressing that. I work for the community.”

First thing Monday, Eyerly said he sat down with Prosser and spelled out for him what he had scheduled for the first couple weeks of his new assignment.

Eyerly said he is headed to Des Moines on Tuesday to talk about flood recovery with officials of the Rebuild Iowa Office, the Iowa Department of Economic Development and the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Iowa office.

He will talk to the City Council on Wednesday evening about the city’s major flood-damaged buildings and about his goal to bring negotiations with the Federal Emergency Management Agency over the scope of the buildings’ damages to a successful conclusion by Oct. 31.

He said the city also is readying to unveil an addition to its Web page, which will allow people to see, step by step, how work on specific flood-related projects is progressing.

Yet this week, too, Eyerly said he hopes to get out into Cedar Rapids’ flood-damaged neighborhoods to take a look around and talk to people.

Eyerly said he can count his top priorities on one hand. He wants to find funding for flood-recovery projects and get it delivered; make sure the city is moving ahead in a timely manner on neighborhood and business recovery, property buyouts and demolitions, and future flood protection.

As for the city’s key flood-damaged buildings, Eyerly said the city and FEMA are in wide disagreement right now on the level of damage on the Veterans Memorial Building and the Central Fire Station, for instance.

One breakthrough, he said, is that FEMA has agreed to set aside its approach to the issue, which Eyerly said is based too much on prior disasters and square footage. The city and its consultants have been asking for a room-by-room analysis of the damages.

Eyerly said his mission is to make the post of flood-recovery director unnecessary in a year or two, he said.

Two factors that will help Cedar Rapids’ flood recovery have nothing to do with who is doing or not doing what, he said.

The city’s flood recovery will be helped if the national economy picks up and if the nation does not experience a major hurricane or other natural disaster this year, he 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.

With a plan to secure bicycle-friendly status on its mind, City Hall moves to fix year-old flood damage to city trails

In City Hall, Floods on June 15, 2009 at 1:45 pm

There has some talk here in recent weeks and months about the city’s ambition to win a designation from the League of American Bicyclists as a bicycle-friendly city.

The city intends to submit a formal application to the League in August.

The enthusiasm in trying to secure such a cool-factor designation stands in contrast to the speed in which the city has moved to a repair section of the heavily used, flood-damaged Cedar River Trail below Czech Village.

The pace of the trail repair prompted City Council member Pat Shey some weeks ago to wonder if work couldn’t get moving on the project.

The City Council now has set a public hearing for its June 24 meeting to discuss the plans for repairing flood damage not only to the Cedar River Trail, but also to the Sac and Fox Trail and to the Ellis Trail. The work, estimated to cost $330,000, also will include fixes to the A Street SW levee, reports Rob Davis, the city’s engineering manager.

As now scheduled, bids on the work will be opened July 2. Construction will start Aug. 10 with the priority to be the Cedar River Trail. All construction should be done by September, Davis says.

As sections to the trails are complete they will be formally opened for use.

Clearing city of hundreds and hundreds of flood-wrecked homes nears reality: HUD changes formula and sends Iowa bigger pot of disaster-relief funds

In City Hall, Floods on June 9, 2009 at 6:05 pm

It was possible to imagine a future Tuesday in which hundreds and hundreds of flood-wrecked Cedar Rapids homes no longer are sitting, empty and ugly.

A much-awaited announcement by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development will be sending a new round of Community Development Block Grant funds into Iowa totally $516.7 million. The state also will be able to compete for a share of another $300 million of new CDBG money, a pleased Rep. Dave Loebsack, D-Mount Vernon, announced Tuesday afternoon.

“I think it’s progress,” Loebsack said. “We’re on the road to recovery and rebuilding.”

Cedar Rapids, with more than 50 percent of the flood damage in Iowa a year ago, will get some sizable share of the new money coming into the state.

Council member Chuck Wieneke, who is the council’s lead voice on buyouts of flood-damaged properties, said Tuesday that the city’s first priority for the new CDBG money will be the buyout of flood-damaged homes. The city has estimated it may need to buy out 1,300 homes at a cost of $175 million.

Wieneke noted that the latest HUD money won’t arrive in the city tomorrow, but he said he hoped the city might see it by latter in the summer.

Jennifer Pratt, the city’s development coordinator, on Tuesday reported that more than 1,000 people have begun the city’s buyout process as the city prepared to purchase some 554 flood-damaged homes in the proposed levee construction area and another 600 or so homes elsewhere beyond reasonable repair. The city has initiated the buyout process so it is poised to buy out properties quickly once CDBG money arrives, Pratt pointed out.

Another group of 167 property owners, which own flood-damaged homes closest to the river, are ready for buyouts using Federal Emergency Management funds. The FEMA money could be here by late August, Pratt said.

City Manager Jim Prosser on Tuesday said the city had hoped, at a minimum, to garner $200 million in the latest allocation of CDBG funds. It remains to be seen if the city gets that much from the state of Iowa’s allocation of $516.7 million, he said.

However, Wieneke and Mayor Kay Halloran both emphasized that Cedar Rapids sustained more than 50 percent of the flood damage in the state a year ago, though both said the city had not managed yet to get that large a share of federal funds coming through the state.

Prosser said the city will use the CDBG money for buyouts, new replacement housing and reconstruction of city infrastructure in flood-damaged neighborhoods.

Key will be rules that accompany the money, the city manager noted.

One HUD spokesman on Tuesday said, for instance, that the new CDBG money could be used to supplement FEMA disaster funds that will come to the city to repair or rebuild flood-damaged public buildings.

Much attention by Iowa’s Congressional delegation and Iowa’s state and local officials has been devoted since late last year to the formula HUD has used to dispense disaster funds among some 30 states that have had disasters in the last year.

HUD apparently changed the formula this time.

In a HUD allocation in November, Iowa received $125 million or 5.8 percent of the $2 billion total. Now, Iowa will receive 13.2 percent of the $3.9 billion total.

In a phone interview Tuesday, Congressman Loebsack said that HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan told him that Iowa fared better in the latest formula because of a factor in the formula addressing “unmet needs.”

“For me the bottom line is I think I made the case for Iowa and certainly for the Second (Congressional) District,” Loebsack said. “My goal is to make sure that the people of Cedar Rapids and the Second District as a whole get their fair share and get what they deserve.”

June 23, Aug. 18 and Oct. 6 are three dates for open houses on flood-damaged city buildings: Should city government return to May’s Island among the great questions

In City Hall, Floods on June 3, 2009 at 4:12 pm

City officials report that they will hold three public open houses over a three-and-half-month period to get the public’s input on what the city should do with its key flood-damaged buildings.

The open houses will be held June 23, Aug. 18 and Oct. 6.

The dates were noted Wednesday during an hour-long discussion between city officials and The Gazette’s editorial board.

In the session, Mayor Kay Halloran and Brian Fagan, council member and mayor pro tem, insisted that the council and city officials have no “preconceived” notion of what the future holds for the city’s public buildings going into the public input process.

At the same time, the city will use a facilities framework, which the council approved earlier this year.
The framework makes a case for the city to consider organizing many of its services into a Community Services Center and a Community Operations Center. The framework also calls for the city to consider opening or building a Public Safety Training Center.

Halloran and Fagan said a Community Services Center – which will be a version of a City Hall — and Community Operations Center – which will be a version of a Public Works Building — do not need to be new buildings. They may be existing buildings, they said.

In response to several questions about the flood-damaged Veterans Memorial Building on May’s Island, which has housed City Hall since the 1920s, neither the mayor and Fagan nor City Manager Jim Prosser and four other city officials at the meeting expressed any sentiment for returning city government to the building. It wasn’t as if they opposed the idea. But no one used the time to promote the idea.

In response to one question, Prosser repeated what he has said in the past: the Veterans Memorial Building, like the flood-damaged Paramount Theatre, has historic standing and must be renovated even if the cost of flood insurance for the buildings could be sizable. Prosser said the city is planning to meet with the state insurance commissioner, who has the power to waive flood insurance requirements on the public buildings.

The city officials spent some time, too, talking about the word sustainability when asked if it is possible to make an existing building as “sustainable” as a new building.

In part, the city’s talk about sustainability centers on the cost to operate a building – heating and cooling it, for instance – over the 50 or 100 years that the building will stand.

Fagan also pointed to what he said was a social component of sustainability, which he seems to tie to a building’s usability by the public. This raises the question, can a seven-story or eight-story building be as socially sustainable as a two-story one. The city’s temporary City Hall is in a two-story building in a northeast Cedar Rapids office park.

Pat Ball, the city’s utilities director, also pointed to the location of a building and the amount of fuel it might take for people to get to it.

Dan Thies, president of OPN Architects Inc., attended the Wednesday session. OPN has been hired by the city, at a cost of $400,000, to conduct the public participation process on facilities.

Thies said he has staff members at his firm “salivating” over the idea of getting into the Veterans Memorial Building and seeing how it might be reconfigured to function in today’s and tomorrow’s world.

Fagan had noted that it’s not easy to get from the First Avenue side of the building to the Second Avenue side of it.

Among other flood-damaged buildings to be reviewed in the public participation process are the downtown library, the existing federal courthouse and a proposed new community center/recreation center.

The library has sustained more than 50 percent damage, a level of damage that will require the building to be razed and rebuilt in place or elsewhere. The library board wants to build it at another downtown site.

Prosser and the mayor said that the plan remains for the city to take over ownership of the existing, flood-damaged federal courthouse, which the federal government is repairing.

The building also has historic standing, and the plan is for the city’s proposed flood-protection system to protect the building, Prosser and the mayor said.

Grass-roots group that engineered local-option sales tax triumph donates $24,183 in excess campaign funds to Habitat for Humanity

In Floods, local-option sales tax on June 2, 2009 at 2:09 pm

Vote Yes for Our Neighbors, the Cedar Rapids grass-roots effort that successfully campaigned to secure passage in early March of a 1-percent local-option sales, has donated its leftover campaign funds — $24,183 — to Cedar Valley Habitat for Humanity.

In less than a month, the Vote Yes campaign raised $85,343.46 from what Gary Ficken and Dale Todd, campaign co-chairmen, said Tuesday was a diverse group of donors.

It did not use $24,183 of the funds raised for the campaign.

Ficken said Vote Yes for Our Neighbors and those who donated to it acted with “housing, housing, housing in mind” for flood victims. It only made sense, then, he said, to use what was left of the campaign dollars on housing for flood victims. Habitat has agreed to use the money in that way, he said.

Ficken said the mix of donors supporting the five-year, local-option sales tax for flood-victim housing was tghe most diverse group of donors he’s ever seen in a campaign for anything. He said the support made the campaign “entertaining,” and he added the fact that the campaign lasted just three-and-half weeks didn’t hurt either.

Coe, St. Luke’s first victors in local scrap to land U.S. Commerce Department diaster-related funds

In Floods on June 2, 2009 at 10:44 am

Coe College and St. Luke’s Hospital are the first victors in the local competition to secure disaster-related funds from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration (EDA).

Iowa’s senators, Tom Harkin and Chuck Grassley, have announced that the college and hospital will use a $4.65 million EDA grant to build a steam heating plant that the two local institutions will share.

This week’s announcement was little surprise.

Coe College and St. Luke’s Hospital were two of eight large users of cheap steam produced by Alliant Energy’s Sixth Street Generating Plant, which was destroyed in last June’s flood.

Last week, the City Council discussed how it would dispense $21 million in federal and state funds to help about 200 steam users covert (or help pay those who already have converted) from the Alliant system to their own steam systems. The council left out Coe College and St. Luke’s in their calculations on the expectation that EDA money was coming for them.

Harkin and Grassley this week confirmed that it is.

The council also left out another of the Sixth Street plant’s eight large steam users, Mercy Medical Center, and for the same reason that it left out Coe and St. Luke’s. Mercy, too, has applied for EDA money, and that now is apparently the next anticipated announcement from EDA.

Several other local projects are competing for the funds. The City Council has said it most would like the EDA to support a proposal to upgrade the U.S. Cellular Center and to add a convention center to it. The city’s Facilities Commission is seeking a $39-million EDA grant to help finance the $52-million project.

Patrick DePalma, chairman of the Facilities Commission, said he and other community representatives met recently with representatives of the EDA, and he said he came away optimistic that EDA is interested in the project.

On its priority list for EDA funding, the City Council placed a proposed recreation center/community center second behind the U.S. Cellular Center proposal.

The Cedar Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce also is seeking an EDA grant for a new Regional Commerce Center and the community also is seeking money for downtown rail study as a prelude to redirecting freight train switching maneuvers from the downtown.

Watershed management does matter in flood protection: Harkin announces $24.2 million for Iowa to buy flood-prone land and return it to its natural state

In Floods on June 2, 2009 at 10:01 am

Rep. Dave Loebsack and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers officials were on the Cedar River last week to talk about protecting Cedar Rapids and other flood-prone cities against another flood.

Both the Congressman and the Corps said flood-protection systems and watershed management were both necessary ingredients in flood protection.

As proof of the need for watershed management, Sen. Tom Harkin on Tuesday announced that the U.S. Department of Agriculture was sending $24.236 million to Iowa to fund 42 floodplain easement projects.
Harkin’s office said the money will be used to purchase easements from landowners along floodplains to allow land most prone to flooding to be restored to a natural state.

By taking easement land out of farm production, the Emergency Watershed Protection Program will allow flood waters to spread out and slow down, helping to reduce flooding on private property elsewhere in the watershed, Harkin’s office said.

“As we approach the one-year anniversary of the flooding that devastated Iowa, these funds will continue the process of rebuilding our state and will help prevent future flooding,” Harkin said in a news release.

The USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service will acquire the property, which can both be private land or certain public land. Landowners will retain several rights to the property, including the right to control public access.