A unique Cedar Rapids neighborhood that was swept downriver by the 2008 Cedar River floods has spurred an effort in the legislature to allow it to rebuild. The Ellis Boat Harbor neighborhood consisted of 43 boat houses that were swept down the river and smashed into a downstream dam.
Iowa’s Department of Natural Resources director, Richard Leopold, says defining this floating neighborhood and allowing it to rebuild is a struggle between D.N.R. rules on boats and boat house owners. He says a houseboat is a boat that goes out into the river and he lake and is easily transportable, while a boat house is part of a dock and is a structure that many times has other boats moored on its sides and is a temporary residence on a dock.
Leopold likens allowing boat houses on the Iowa waterways to permitting house building in state parks. Leopold says all the waters in the state are the same in the state’s eyes, as house boats that temporarily use a state water are like someone putting up a tent in a state park, as opposed to someone putting down roots. He says for example, they would not let someone build a home in a state park, and they want to protect the same sovereign nature of state waters.
Ellis Harbor Neighborhood Association vice president, Deanna McLaud, argues longevity trumps D.N.R. rules. McLaud says the harbor was in existence “long before the D.N.R. was even thought of” as she says there’s been boat houses along the Cedar River since the 1920’s. McLaud says the Ellis neighborhood has a legacy just like any landlocked neighborhood.
McLaud says: “My grandfather had a boat house and my father had a boat house, and then I bought my own boat house. My two daughters have grown up and the harbor and now my oldest daughter has two sons, so now I have two grandsons who are growing up on the harbor,” McLaud says.
The D.N.R. director initially proposed allowing existing boat house owners to remain in the harbor, but without the ability to transfer the boat house to new owners. That’s when freshman Representative Kirsten Running-Marquardt, a Democrat from Cedar Rapids, introduced legislation giving the city of Cedar Rapids jurisdiction. It would retain the boathouses and their transferability.
Running-Marquardt says it’s important to her as she participated in the community growing up and feels it’s worth fighting for. Governor Chet Culver, recalling boyhood days along the Cedar River, backs the special legislation and D.N.R. director Leopold has backed off his opposition.
“This is an exception, and this is not allowed to happen in other places. This was something that had happened over a decades of time and we now have a situation that is very difficult for us to reconclie with our rulse and laws,” Leopold says, “but make it understood that this is not going to happen in the Okoboji’s or in the Mississipi River, or Lake Rathbun, or anywhere else.”
Leopold says it’s another compromise in D.N.R. rules for Cedar Rapids in the wake of the historic 2008 flood. Leopold says there have been a number of things that don’t fit in the cut and dried, black and white and they’ve had to deal with the situation at hand and make some compromises. The Iowa House passed Running-Marquardt’s legislation last week and it has gone to the Senate.