Wednesday marked 10 years since the Cedar River overflowed its banks and crested in the city of Cedar Rapids at a record 31.12 feet. The historic floods of 2008 displaced an estimated 10,000 city residents, submerged more than 1100 city blocks caused more than $2 billion worth of damage.
In Cedar Rapids' Northwest neighborhood a decorative concrete wall and metal sculpture rise above open grassy fields dotted with trees. Ten years ago there were dozens of homes in this part of the city, but the flood of 2008 changed that. There are a handful of homes left, some the only remaining buildings on the block. A metal plaque shows the high water mark of 31.12 feet where the floodwaters peaked.
On Wednesday afternoon, residents, current and former city officials and state lawakers gathered to dedicate the memorial and recognize the loss and the resilience of the community.
“We have not forgotten the homes and the belongings that were destroyed in the water. We have not forgotten the family-owned businesses and the livelihoods that were disrupted by this flood. We are standing here today as a community together,” said City Manager Jeff Pomeranz.
But not everyone in attendance was there to celebrate. Bethany Steichen was a sophmore in high school when the flood struck. She still lives in the Northwest's Time Check neighborhood, in what she said is the only house left standing on her block.
"I just watched house after house being torn down and knowing how old those houses are it's really hard to watch," Steichen said, fighting back tears. "You can just look around and all it is is trees anymore."
She said the memorial won't restore her neighborhood back to how it was before the flood, and said she'd rather those resources be spent on fixing sidewalks or other city infrastructure.
"We don't need a reminder! All we have to do is look out our windows and see there's no houses anymore," Steichen said.
City officials said the memorial was entirely funded by private donors.
In the wake of the floods, the city purchased more than 1,300 residential and commercial properties. Local governments, community groups and developers reinvested in the city's infrastructure, restoring many damaged buidlings and working to revitalize neighborhoods like NewBo and the Czech Village.
But the city is still looking for federal support to build its permanent flood management system. Cedar Rapids Mayor Brad Hart told residents Wednesday he’ll keep pushing for federal funding.
“We want our neighborhoods, our businesses, our whole community to know we’re working hard to protect everyone in this community," Hart said. "Our efforts will continue until we have permanent flood protection on both sides of the river.”
For years the city of Cedar Rapids has been lobbying for federal support for the $375 million it needs to build a permanent flood management system, consisting of a 7.5 mile long network of floodwalls, levees and greenways. Federal officials have said the funding is held up because the city's plan doesn't have a high enough return on investment, based on the cost of protecting properties compared to their overall values.
But Major General Richard Kaiser of the Army Corps of Engineers said Wednesday he's optimistic about the city's chances.
"There's a lot of congressional interest in this project. And again I would say it's the best position it's been in for funding," Kaiser said. "We're very hopeful it'll see funding."