I was at my home at 1426 1st Street NW in Cedar Rapids, Iowa when I nervously watched flood waters seep through the bottom of the Time Check levee at 1st Street and N Avenue NW. I was livid when city workers came by the next day and took a bite of dirt out off of the side of our levee further compromising our flood protection.
Forced to leave our home we weren’t able to return for ten days. Even worse- we couldn’t even see our house. When we were finally able to get a view of the house it wasn’t until June 14, 2008 and we did so from a hallway in St. Luke’s Hospital. I looked through binoculars where I saw two boat docks dangling off the corner of my house while unmanned and uninsured houseboats drifted down the river where they could be seen stacking up along the 1898 Railroad Bridge that sits by Quaker Oats.
After being inundated by the 2008 Midwest Floods my home’s economic value dropped more than $50,000.00 in less than a year. My house’s monetary value may have hit rock bottom but its sentimental worth tripled in that time. My riverfront home sat neglected for more than a year because we were told that it was too far gone and repairing it would be a waste of time because the United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACOE) were going to need to tear it down so they could build a stronger levee. I became infuriated when I learned the city intended to tear down our historical neighborhood full of affordable housing for a posh riverfront project and that my house was to be replaced with a green-way park.
Since June 2008 many of the flood affected people were treated unjustly. Many of these people have lost hope and were stripped of their dignity and pride. These people just want to move on with their lives. They wanted to rebuild and thus recover but their hands were tied and homeowners were forced to prove that their home received less than 50% damage before the city would issue them a building permit.
Because I am not technically a homeowner I have nothing to lose here. I do however have stake in the 1st Street house. I wasn’t married to the man who owns it but I was in an on and off relationship with him for more than twenty years. We have two children together who lived with me under that roof at the time of the flood. I was the one who picked the house out! It is as much my house as it is his. Just because we weren’t married doesn’t mean I deserved to be treated unequally or as if I don’t have a stake in that house.
It wasn’t so much the federal government that was holding us up but the local leadership whose decisions ruined the finances of hundreds of hardworking people in Cedar Rapids. I was delighted when voters stepped up and elected Ron Corbett as our new Mayor over Brian Fagan, a now former “at large city council member”. Ron Corbett sat down with a few of us over coffee and listened to our ideas and from that produced a flood recovery plan. We needed someone to stand up for those of us who were flood affected so that we could finally start to recover. Many of us who are flood affected haven’t even begun our recovery because we have been oppressed due to the choices that the former council made on our behalf. Those members who left did very little to help us. They have not allowed us to move forward instead they made decisions that caused people who were financially stable before the flood to go in debt.
We needed new leadership and so last night’s city council meeting was such a breath of fresh air! I think that the progress they made was remarkable and fruitful. The ‘buy local’ ordinance was finally passed in spite of Tom Podzimek’s ‘welfare’ comment. I saw more get accomplished in this single meeting than I have any meetings I’ve been to in the last two years. I loved watching our new Mayor, Ron Corbett, take the initiative to begin the healing process for our badly damaged city. It was nice to see a mayor on the panel that cared. I grew tired of watching Mayor Kay Halloran just sit there rudely smacking her bubble gum- without a conscious – smiling and thanking people for their comments but she never did take any of those comments into consideration as far as I know.
One of the most interesting parts of the meeting for me was when the City Engineer, Dave Elgin, stepped up to the podium and spoke about the recent findings of the study done by the United States Army Corps of Engineers. Dave stated that the City Engineer’s Office is held to the same federal standards that the United States Army Corps of Engineers are and if that is the case then this city in fact guilty of monumental negligence. Dave spoke about the Neighborhood Planning Meetings and all the public comments that were taken into consideration throughout that process. I was at all those meetings and I did not feel my comments mattered nor did anyone else who was participating. I later found they already had a plan that they weren’t going to just tear down. Well, we aren’t going to just let some costly outside consultant’s come in and tear down our historical neighborhoods either!