Some 15 homeowners with riverside properties on Ellis Boulevard NW out near Ellis Park have been unhappy with City Hall and the city’s “preferred” flood protection plan since it was put in place several months after the 2008 flood.
And they still are.
Now, though, council members Don Karr and Ann Poe, two of three on the council’s Flood Recovery Committee, are taking the homeowners’ part.
On a 2-0 vote, the committee on Thursday agreed to ask the full City Council to review the city’s preferred flood protection plan with the idea to revise the plan’s conceptual alignment for a construction and study area and a future earthen levee along the west side of the Cedar River, especially in northwest Cedar Rapids.
Karr grew up in this part of the city, and Poe’s family had a riverside home at 1871 Ellis Blvd. NW near Ellis Park, which has been purchased and is awaiting demolition as part of the city’s flood-recovery buyout program.
Six homeowners on Thursday told Karr, Poe and council and committee member Justin Shields that the current preferred plan leaves their homes, nearly all in the 500-year flood plain, in the way of a line on the map for a future levee that is far from certain yet makes it impossible for them to plan for the future.
“I do feel like I’ve been held hostage,” Ed Pettus, who owns a property at 1723 Ellis Blvd. NW, told the committee.
Mark Roskopf, 1845 Ellis Blvd. NW, said he and his neighbors all have flood insurance and he said, with it, he doesn’t need flood protection. However, the city map of the preferred plan could hurt his chances to sell his house one day, he said.
Karr called these homeowners “the human factor” stuck in the middle of the city’s 5-year-old flood protection plan. He said it wasn’t fair to ask them to languish there any longer when the actual alignment for a flood protection system on the west side of the river won’t be determined for some years and the actual system isn’t apt to be built for many years.
“Every homeowner is important,” Poe said after the meeting, adding that this group deserved to be heard at City Hall.
“They’re wonderful stewards of the river. They understand the risk,” Poe said.
Linda Seger, president of the Northwest Neighbors Neighborhood Association, presented the committee with a petition of 221 signatures calling on the City Council to revisit and revise the conceptual alignment of the construction zone and levee.
Seger’s home, at 1629 Eighth St. NW, is a non-riverfront homes in the construction zone, a designation which she said prevented homeowners from obtaining certain flood-recovery assistance to renovate their homes. They’ve fixed the homes up anyway.
The city and its preferred plan had created an unfair “limbo” for her and others that needs to be reviewed and fixed, she said.
Seger said the preferred plan’s alignment already has changed a bit in the Kingston Village area across from downtown and at the site of the African American Museum of Iowa along the river in New Bohemia.
“We know the line is flexible,” Seger said.
Council member Shields, who had to leave the committee meeting before Thursday’s vote, told the 20 or so neighbors at the meeting that the preferred plan from the start never had been more than “a starting point” for what an eventual alignment might be once the city had the money to hire engineers to create a final design for the project.
Martin Smith, of 3219 Carlisle St. NE, noted that he was the only one speaking to the committee who did not have a house affected by the city’s plans for flood protection system. Smith said it seemed to make sense to review the preferred plan, but he said, too, that the city had taken much public input five years ago when the City Council put the plan in place. It shouldn’t be “thrown out” without more public input, he said.
Mike Augustine, a retired Fire Department commander, told the committee that he and his neighbors got to work and renovated their homes along the river in short order after the flood when it wasn’t clear if the city would receive federal money to buy flood-damaged homes out. The city got the money, but Augustine, of 1865 Ellis Blvd. NW, said he and most of his neighbors already had paid to renovate.
“The ones who did something got crapped on the most,” he said.
His son, Craig, of 1855 Ellis Blvd. NW, said only so many homeowners remain along the river, and he said it is easy now for the city to revise its plans to to “snake” any flood protection system around the homes that remain.
Joe O’Hern, the city’s executive administrator for development services, reported that there is some progress at both the federal and state levels to provide funds to the city for flood protection.
At the state level, he said the city is planning to submit its application for funding to the state’s new Flood Mitigation Board by the end of the year. The new state program allows communities to tap into the incremental increase in state sales tax collected in a community and use the funds for flood protection. The city must match the funds.
O’Hern said money from the state program will start small and then grow, but cannot be more than $15 million in any one year for 20 years.
Karr wondered if money would be available early on to design flood protection on the west side of the river or if most of the money at the start would go to match federal dollars for east-side flood protection. As a result, it makes sense to set the current west-side alignment aside to help homeowners in its way, he said.
Most of the homes in the way of the proposed flood protection system have been bought out and demolished