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