Grassley, Ernst press Corps for Cedar Rapids flood funding

Source: Des Moines Register

By Joel Aschbrenner

Senators Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst are pressing the Army Corps of Engineers to explain why cities like Cedar Rapids and Des Moines rank low on the priority list to receive federal funding for flood projects.

In a letter sent Tuesday, Grassley and Ernst asked the Corps to justify the formula used to fund levees, flood walls and other flood protection measures.

They said the funding formula is biased against small towns and cities because it considers property values but not public safety dangers posed by floods.

“We believe this is extremely concerning and believe there are flaws in how the Corps calculates the costs and benefits on flood risk management projects, which leave cities like Iowa’s two largest and others around the nation vulnerable to catastrophic flooding,” the letter said.

After floodwaters threatened Cedar Rapids last month, many residents are asking why the city lacks permanent levees.

The city has created a $625 million flood protection plan, but the federal government has not allocated its $73 million share of the project.

Federal funding for such projects is prioritized based, in part, on the value of property protected. Industry experts and former lawmakers say cities in Iowa are unlikely to get federal dollars for flood projects because they have low property values compared to coastal areas and major metros.

Ernst and Grassley called the funding formula “penny wise and pound foolish.” Cedar Rapids spent more than $6 million building temporary flood walls last month and endured more than $2 billion in damage during the 2008 flood.

Former U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin previously told the Register that Congress should focus on providing more funding to the Corps, rather than trying to tinker with the formula.

A spokesperson for the Corps said no official with the agency could comment on the letter, but said the Corps had received it and would respond to the Senators.