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

Posts Tagged ‘FEMA’

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.

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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.

Flood-hit National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library seeks Vision Iowa funds; collections will never return to existing building

In City Hall on April 22, 2009 at 11:28 am

The National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library will seek some millions of dollars over a few years from the state’s Vision Iowa Board to help with its flood recovery, Gail Naughton, president/CEO of the facility, told the City Council last night.

Naughton won City Council support to pursue Vision Iowa funds from the state’s Riverfront Enhancement Community Attraction and Tourism program and/or from its Community Attraction and Tourism program.

During her presentation to the council, Naughton reported that the museum/library now has purchased the former Music Loft space in Czech Village to house its office and some exhibition space so it can get back close to its flood-damaged museum/library building.

Naughton also told the council that the existing building never again will house museum collections and exhibitions. She said that curators in the Czech Republic who provide collections for the Cedar Rapids would not allow their items displayed in a venue that has been flooded.

“It’s just been marked,” Naughton said of the flood-damaged building.

She said the thinking now is the existing building would become an education and cultural center while the museum/library’s collections and exhibits would be housed at a proposed new $17.75-million exhibition center and research library that would house collections and exhibits.

The non-profit organization’s recovery plan includes $25 million in improvements, including the addition of the exhibition center and research library.

Earlier Wednesday, Naughton said the museum/library sustained more than $10 million in flood damage.

Naughton said the organization continues to work with the Federal Emergency Management Agency on a final damage assessment and how to proceed with the museum/library’s existing building. The building, she explained, sits one foot above the city’s 100-year floodplain.

The city’s plan for permanent flood protection calls for removable flood walls to protect Czech Village as well as both sides of the Cedar River in the downtown.

Naughton said one concept for the removable flood walls is that they would run on the edge of the museum/library’s terrace between the river and the museum/library, which is perched near the river.

But the final details of such protection won’t be decided for a few years yet, she noted.

Much, she added, is still up in the air. “We’d like to reuse it,” she said of the existing museum/library building, one of the city’s chief tourism attractions.

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.

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.