Cedar Rapids, Iowa and the Flood Recovery

Cedar Rapids, Iowa and the Flood Recovery

by Paul Deaton

there is a need to act and that is where the government may force some
residents out of their homes. This part of the process can be unpleasant
and who can blame people for speaking up and pointing to perceived
hypocrisy in the process.

What is the balance between respecting the culture of indigenous people and the wants of governments? Historian Luther Brewer wrote of Linn County, Iowa, “When the first white settlers located in Linn County, the Red Men (sic) still occupied the land, and even after treaties had been fully ratified, Indians were slow to give up these choice hunting places along the Red Cedar and the Wapsie. It is needless to say that the rights of Indians were not protected and they invariably were set aside and driven away as fast as possible.” Some say that in 2010, the City of Cedar Rapids has returned to this pattern of removal of populations in its implementation of the flood recovery plan. That is a harsh assessment.

In the wake of the floods of 1993 and 2008, our government was compelled to act. The flood of 1993 was described as the most costly and devastating to ever occur in the United States. It was bad enough, flooding about 30,000 square miles in a 320,000 square mile hydrographic basin that included much of Iowa. The flood of 2008 was worse. It has been described as the fourth worst natural disaster in United States history, hitting Iowa's second largest city of Cedar Rapids particularly hard and disrupting lives that are not healed today. People who lost everything in the flood now must rebuild their lives. More than two years after the water crested, many are not sure what that means. In discussions with elected officials, there has been no question they empathize with the victims of the floods.

When Cedar Rapids resident Ron Corbett announced his campaign for Mayor on March 9, 2009, he said, “the question is not whether Cedar Rapids will recover and return to the days when we were leading Iowa in job creation and innovation; instead the question is whether we will do this together as a unified community and do it sooner rather than later.” During the campaign, Corbett pointed to the slow progress of flood recovery and to his credit, after the election, Mayor Corbett has taken steps to remediate the flood's damage and get the city moving. Not everyone agrees with the approach the city has taken.

There is a group in the Time Check neighborhood that is dissatisfied with what the government is doing. When Lieutenant Governor Patty Judge was in West Branch earlier this week, she was asked what recourse people who were dissatisfied with the progress of the flood recovery had. She indicated that Governor Culver met with this group in Cedar Rapids to hear their concerns. What she also said was that in some ways, for people who lost everything, there could be no complete recovery from the devastation. The 2008 flood was unprecedented and government “had to do something.”

a surge of recent activity, including a demonstration outside a
restaurant where Governor Culver was holding a fundraiser, the group has
gained the ear of the governor, the mayor, the U.S. Army Corps of
Engineers and other officials. What happens from here is an open
question, but this is a critical time for the group as they may get only
one bite at the apple of public officials' attention.

In society, everyone does not get what they want. While one role of government should be to protect the rights of minorities, protecting those rights does not mean satisfying every demand. The author is friends with people who have lived in the flood zone. Some have moved out, some have unaddressed needs and others have repaired their homes and are seeking to live life as best they can. From the discussion with Lieutenant Governor Judge, it is clear that the Governor is aware of the Time Check neighborhood situation and was willing to listen. The author is confident that Mayor Corbett is also willing to listen.

Eventually, there is a need to act and that is where the government may force some residents out of their homes. This part of the process can be unpleasant and who can blame people for speaking up and pointing to perceived hypocrisy in the process.

At the same time, when we consider the dispossession of the natives from this same land, a considerable amount of listening and thought has been given to the Cedar Rapids flood recovery. Certainly there has been more empathy than was given to the natives in the 19th century.

In several ways, this discussion between government and a community group is about respect. Both sides are capable of showing respect and should do so. The author also submits that it is as the Rolling Stones pointed out, “you can't always get what you want, but if you try, sometimes, you get what you need.” Let's hope that all of the flood victims can get on with their lives, that being one way to get what they need.

Deaton is a native Iowan living in rural Johnson County and weekend
editor of Blog for Iowa.
E-mail Paul

This entry was posted in 2008 Flooding, Chet Culver, Jobs, Local Events, Main Page. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Cedar Rapids, Iowa and the Flood Recovery

  1. Anonymous says:

    I am just a bystander who recently took time to sit with the homeowners in question after noticing disparity between areas in recovery; in contrast to what was being said in the news. After several weeks of listening to these people daily, I began to realize something was so very wrong indeed. Frankly, I wish I had never become curious and never met these homeowners, they meant nothing to me before. My life would have been much simpler. But the more I heard and saw, the more compelled I was to at least let them know that someone was at least listening. My gut tells me I have way too much empathy for their plight but it also tells me I can not now turn my back on them or forever be a hypocrite when it comes to civil rights. So I am responding to this article as best I can. I am not a journalist, I wish I was.
    I am shocked over how little value is put on hundreds of poor working class homeowners and their families, who I have come to know intimately as hard working honest decent people with children. Since the 08 floods in Cedar Rapids, much federal and state money has been directed towards flood recovery in Cedar Rapids thanks to our elected officials but too many of these homeowners in certain areas of Cedar Rapids have not received any help. These homeowners refuse to roll over and give up, in part because they have no where else to go. They are NOT trying to milk any system, just survive. These homeowners feel that their property rights, indeed civil rights, are being trampled. I have heard how they feel they have been lied to by the city on numerous occasions; intimidated and harassed by the city. In checking their stories out, I believe them with all my heart. City services denied as well as the good works of volunteer organizations. Homes are being leveled with lightening speed without the consent of and fair compensation to the true owner. Other homes sold from underneath them for $1 and they get nothing. Recovery funds totally denied. Time is running out on them. Seems to me, the city is counting on you not to bother to look into this further. These areas are off the beaten path, off your radar and ignored by the media.
    The city is hell bent to proceed with their plans without allowing these homeowners to be heard at length demonizing them as CAVE People. These are the same plans that the citizens of Cedar Rapids rejected at the polls before the flood of 08. In my view, the flood indeed is being used as an excuse to take advantage of these people, many of which are disabled and veterans; to take advantage of FEMA and State flood recovery money for “alternate purposes”, as the mayor was quoted in April. Decent working class homeowners with families, young children are being coerced / forced to abandon their properties, to move into relative’s homes, into nursing homes, to become renters at wages that hardly supported their families before, to even become part of the growing homeless on the streets. It wasn’t a flood that is doing that, it’s how the city is treating these folks. They are being treated with absolutely no respect for their rights, like so much flood debris; like they were disposable people.
    These homeowners are not from any political stripe. They are not educated. They have no agenda but to save their neighborhood and homes, to stand up for their civil rights. If they picket any function, it is not in being opposed to anything, but being FOR their civil rights, period. They have no organization or structure; just intense desperation and misery. They ask only to be heard at length, before they are scattered to the winds. All I can do is listen, what else can I do? And cry over what our society does to its people in the name of “progress”. Progress for who?
    Respectfully, Ashley Super (recently retired to Cedar Rapids, a place I call home)


  2. Anonymous says:

    If they can do this in my neighborhood none of you are safe in your own.
    I am the person who handed Culver the letter asking him to come and talk to us at one of our Sunday events. Mr. Culver stated “I've done a lot for your neighborhood” and I almost came unglued! He has done nothing for my neighborhood but mow it down!
    I am not one of the uneducated people who live in the Time Check neighborhood. I am working with a lawyer right now to help make some things right. I want accountability.
    We are the very people that everyone claims to love when they visit Iowa. We are the PIONEERS of this community and we are being treated like trash! The city has not listened to any of our pleas for help they think of our area as 'slums' but the truth is we have more class in our pinkie toe than most of these so called representatives do in their whole body!
    You can put lipstick on a pig but it's still a pig!


  3. Anonymous says:

    First of all people were not aware that the city knew that a flood of this magnitude was coming. I was shocked when I learned the city turned the Corps down when there was a dollar to dollar ratio in the 80s! Especially living in a city that bragged to New York Times that it “would never flood”! http://www.nytimes.com/2008/06/13/us/13flood.html?_r=1
    When the flood did come we didn't get adequate warnings in fact we were told the water would be much lower than it was by about 10 feet! Things have been neglected for a long time so long that the equipment our river experts were relying on to tell us the measurements were broken. The 5 in 1 dam was also 'broken' during the flood.
    We were kept from our home for ten days by gun point. http://www.prisonplanet.com/articles/june2008/061808_strike_teams.htm
    We were denied permits and told we couldn't go 'home' because the City claimed that the United States Army Corps of Engineers “needed our land” for their “flood wall” but we later found that was a LIE!
    There hasn't been one thing voluntary about this 'buyout'! Those of us who opted to stay have been harassed by several levels of government!
    Our houses were not “ugly” or “blighted” until the city hired companies to come in and blight them! http://twitpic.com/2leyes
    Homeowners have been left with no house and no compensation for their houses!
    Finally, Patti Judge did NOT visit with us! Not those of us who were complaining anyway!
    Our area has been denied volunteer help and any cash assistance. This is the west bank of Cedar Rapids and a disaster coined the “White Katrina” by people in other states.


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