Gazette Editorial Board
Don Karr sees all the cranes in the air on the east side of the river. OK. But what about the west side, the Cedar Rapids at-large city council member asked during an interview with us?
Karr’s passion springs from frustration tied in part to news about the new Time Check Recreation Center he and his City Council colleagues approved — on a site near the previous facility that was heavily damaged by the 2008 flood.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency last week rejected that August council decision, a major setback for this important project. At stake is $3 million in FEMA disaster funds to build the new center.
We don’t think the City Council should give up on this project. It’s important to the Time Check Neighborhood and west side. It also has broader potential benefits for the entire community if the center eventually could incorporate senior activities and youth sports organizations looking to expand opportunities at or near the center.
FEMA originally told the city that “you can replace the rec center in the 100-year flood plain,” Joe O’Hern, the city’s top flood-recovery official, told us Thursday. That contributed to the second site-selection process that determined the center should be located at or near the original site in Time Check Park, he said. During that process, FEMA indicated that justification for the exception would have to be provided, but O’Hern said Thursday the city believed it had made a strong case.
Apparently not strong enough. FEMA last week told the city it couldn’t locate in Time Check Park after all because “practicable alternatives” exist outside the 100-year flood plain, pointing to two sites in Ellis Park proposed during the first round of site selection but rejected after residents protested.
Still, Karr asks, why can’t the recreation center be built in Time Check Park if it’s elevated (about 2 feet) to a level above the 100-year flood plain. After all, the new federal building on the east side passed muster by such “building up.” And what about the city-owned Paramount Theatre, which was restored and renovated while remaining in the 100-year flood plain?
Different projects, different federal funding rules.
The federal building wasn’t built with FEMA disaster funds. The Paramount, which did get FEMA money, is a repair project, not a replacement.
Meanwhile, O’Hern and City Manager Jeff Pomeranz say there’s no intent to revisit the Ellis Park sites. They believe FEMA would consider pushing back the June 30, 2013, deadline by which the $3 million must be committed.
We say appeal the FEMA decision, but have a backup plan — one that also would keep the recreation center in the Time Check neighborhood or nearby. The west side has earned this one.
And be sure to keep Time Check stakeholders in the loop and involved in the decision-making discussions.
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