Washington, DC – In their continued efforts to secure the previously authorized funding for the Cedar Rapids flood mitigation project, U.S. Senators Joni Ernst (R-IA), Chuck Grassley (R-IA), and U.S. Representative Rod Blum (IA-01) sent a letter to Lieutenant General of the Army Corps of Engineers Todd Semonite and Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works R.D. James requesting further information on how the Army Corps makes certain project funding decisions.

In their letter, the Iowa Members of Congress again highlighted the flawed benefit-to-cost ratio (BCR) formula, which prioritizes projects in areas with higher property values and has kept projects in rural areas, such as the Cedar Rapids flood mitigation project, from receiving funding, despite two major flood events in the past decade. While the Cedar Rapids community has been able to rebuild, the lawmakers stressed that “assistance from the Corps remains vital to completing the project and protecting against another catastrophic flood event. “

They continued “As you are aware, the Corps has the discretion to fund projects with low BCRs if construction of the project would address a ‘significant risk to human safety.’ In the past several years, projects with BCRs below 3 have received funding through annual appropriations because of this discretion.  To our knowledge, in FY 2017, the Corps funded five low BCR projects using this exception: (1) American River Watershed (Folsom Dam Modifications), CA – 2.2 BCR; (2) Santa Ana River Mainstem, CA – 2.1 BCR; (3) American River Watershed (Folsom Dam Raise), CA – 1.8 BCR; (4) Yuba River Basin, CA – 1.7 BCR; and (5) Raritan River Basin, NJ – 1.3 BCR.” The Cedar Rapids project has a BCR of 1.2.

Ernst, Grassley and Blum added “As representatives of a rural, Midwestern state, we are troubled that all five of these projects are located in coastal states. We would like to know how the Corps determines which projects receive human safety exceptions.” They also reminded Semonite and James that “In recent testimony before the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, you both acknowledged the importance of the project and that the current BCR metrics put rural states and their cities—like Cedar Rapids—at a severe disadvantage.”

This letter follows a recent meeting that Ernst and Grassley and Blum had with the Director of Office of Management and Budget, Mick Mulvaney, to discuss a path forward to ensure Iowa receives its long overdue authorized assistance for flood mitigation.

Read their full letter here or below.

 

Dear Secretary James and General Semonite,

In 2008, Cedar Rapids, Iowa experienced a record-breaking, devastating flood event that caused approximately $5.4 billion in damages. To protect against future flood events, the city developed an extensive flood mitigation project, to which the State of Iowa and the city have committed approximately $400 million in funding.  The private sector has also dedicated a large amount of its own resources to this project. To supplement these significant state, local, and private contributions, the 2014 Water Resources Reform and Development Act authorized approximately $73 million in federal funding for the project. In 2016, Cedar Rapids faced its second highest flooding event where approximately $6 million in emergency funding will have been spent on protection and recovery.  This project was also listed in the 2016 water resources bill as one of nine projects to be expedited by the Corps.

To date, no Corps construction funds have been budgeted for the project due to its low benefit-to-cost ratio (BCR) of 1.2. The community has been able to rebuild its downtown area and improve flood protection infrastructure using state and local dollars and federal disaster funds, but assistance from the Corps remains vital to completing the project and protecting against another catastrophic flood event. 

Each year, millions of dollars are spent to implement emergency temporary protection measures and billions of dollars are spent to pay for emergency recovery efforts after each disaster.  It would be a wiser course of action to build a permanent flood reduction structure once and spend millions, instead of spending billions over time in temporary emergency measures.

This issue is of major importance to the City of Cedar Rapids and the State of Iowa.  The delegation has had numerous discussions with the Corps and the Office of Management and Budget over the years where we have expressed how vital it is for this project to receive funding.  In recent testimony before the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, you both acknowledged the importance of the project and that the current BCR metrics put rural states and their cities—like Cedar Rapids—at a severe disadvantage.

As you are aware, the Corps has the discretion to fund projects with low BCRs if construction of the project would address a “significant risk to human safety.” In the past several years, projects with BCRs below 3 have received funding through annual appropriations because of this discretion.  To our knowledge, in FY 2017, the Corps funded five low BCR projects using this exception: (1) American River Watershed (Folsom Dam Modifications), CA – 2.2 BCR; (2) Santa Ana River Mainstem, CA – 2.1 BCR; (3) American River Watershed (Folsom Dam Raise), CA – 1.8 BCR; (4) Yuba River Basin, CA – 1.7 BCR; and (5) Raritan River Basin, NJ – 1.3 BCR.

As representatives of a rural, Midwestern state, we are troubled that all five of these projects are located in coastal states. We would like to know how the Corps determines which projects receive human safety exceptions. Please answer the following:

  • Are there specific metrics the Corps uses to make this determination or is this a subjective, case-by-case process?
  • What information is considered in making these determinations?
  • Does the Corps consider the repeated costs of personal, local, city, state, and federal recovery efforts when determining human safety exceptions?
  • Do human safety exceptions consider that flooding in communities often has a disproportionate impact on lower income individuals and neighborhoods that are least able to protect themselves from the loss of economic productivity and private property, which often causes long-lasting social disruption?
  • Can you provide documentation of the data, stakeholder input, studies, etc. that were used to make the decisions to apply human safety exceptions to the five projects listed above?
  • Who is involved in the decision-making process for human safety exceptions? Who makes the final determination whether to apply the exception?
  • What low BCR projects are currently being considered for human safety exceptions?  Is the Cedar Rapids project one of them?

Thank you for your time and attention to this issue.  We appreciate your willingness to work with us in finding a solution to this important funding matter.

 

Sincerely,

 

 

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Joni K. Ernst                                                                  

United States Senator

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Chuck Grassley

United States Senator                       

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Rod Blum

Member of Congress