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

Posts Tagged ‘Rep. Dave Loebsack’

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.”

Loebsack and Army Corps of Engineers say they can think of at least two things at once: flood protection and watershed management

In City Hall, Floods, Rep. Dave Loebsack on June 1, 2009 at 4:59 pm

Congressman Dave Loebsack and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers say they can think of more than one thing at the same time when it comes to flood control and water management.

Actually, it’s the ability to think of two or more parts of the same issue — in this case, flood protection and watershed management as part of the larger issue of water management — at the same time, Loebsack and Corps officials say.

The issue was the topic of discussion Friday as second-termer Loebsack, D- Mount Vernon, plied the Cedar River in Cedar Rapids in a small boat with Lt. Col. Michael Clarke, district commander of the Army Corps’ Rock Island, Ill., district office, Dennis Hamilton, the Corps; district chief of project management, and Dave Elgin, the city’s public works director and city engineer.

Loebsack and the others were taking a look from the river back toward shore to get a feel for the damage caused by the June 2008 flood and a feel for how a new flood-protection system in the city might change the river and the shoreline.

There were a couple other small boats in the mix, too, so that TV news crews and a newspaper photographer could better get photos and video of Loebsack and the Corps officials and Elgin getting a look around.

Of course, this was something of a dog-and-pony show, but it is one that might help bring the cows home sooner than otherwise would be possible.

Loebsack made a little news just by questions he asked. What would happen if Congress quickly appropriated funding to build a flood-protection system even before the necessary feasibility study was completed? he asked.

In that one question, the Congressman gave the impression it might be possible to secure money within the two years it is supposed to take for a feasibility study. Local officials have been preparing for the fact that it could take eight to 15 years to get a flood-protection system in place.

In the 40-or-so minute river trip, Loebsack and the Corps officials were asked if it might not make sense to set aside plans on a flood-protection system for Cedar Rapids for now and focus on what changes can be made in the vast Cedar River watershed above the city.

Loebsack said it was necessary to establish a watershed management program over time to make sure flood mitigation works.

The Corps’ Hamilton noted that, in fact, the Corps has now begun a watershed study on the Cedar and Iowa rivers as part of the Corps’ Upper Mississippi River Comprehensive Plan.

Such a study won’t result in the call to build a new, giant reservoir upstream someplace, which he said require the flooding of too much land at too great a cost.

Hamilton also said improving the management of the watershed was needed, not just to help with lessening the risk of flood, but to improve water quality, enhance natural habitats and to help better use recreational resources.

Hamilton said improvements in the watershed above the city can only do so much for flood protection.

“It’s not realistic to expect flooding in Cedar Rapids to be preventable solely due to watershed changes,” Hamilton said.

“It’s an important aspect” he said of watershed management. “It can reduce flooding in the future, and we certainly want to make sure that the watershed is properly managed so flooding doesn’t ever get any worse than it is now, and hopefully it gets even a little better.

“But to expect watershed improvements by themselves will prevent flooding in Cedar Rapids, we don’t feel like it is a realistic plan.”

Better watershed management is one piece of the larger approach to flood prevention, which also includes moving people out of flood plains and building levees and floodwalls where it makes sense, Hamilton said.

The Corps’ Cedar Rapids flood-protection feasibility study, as now conceived, will be complete in draft form by the summer of 2010 and in final form by February or March of 2011.

Estimates have been as high as $1 billion to build a system of levees and floodwalls to protect Cedar Rapids against a flood the size of the 2008 one.