Voters in Cedar Rapids, a city inundated by flooding in 2008, will go to the polls today to decide on paying for a flood protection plan. Al Pierson is a florist whose store is on the west side of the Cedar River, an area that won’t get flood protection if the measure fails. Pierson hopes the vote is a slam-dunk.
“It should be, of course we want it,” Pierson says. “Of course I’ll vote for it.” Pierson’s shop had eight feet of water in it at the peak of the flood four years ago. He says everything below the ceilings had to be replaced. Pierson says there’s a lot of the opposition to the plan from people in westside neighborhoods, where many houses are still boarded up.
“The people in this neighborhood all work hard, all do things themselves,” he says. “It’s the kind of place where if you want something done, you’re going to do it yourself and they don’t trust the government.” Voters are deciding whether to extend a one-cent local option sales tax for ten years. A similar measure was narrowly rejected last May.
The previous vote was for a 20-year extension. Also, the earlier measure would have allowed the money to go for flood protection, road repairs and tax relief. The new one specifies the money would only be for flood protection. At a gas station a few miles from the flower shop, another west-sider Shannon Gillespie puts it this way:”You gotta’ understand, you live near a river, it’s going to suck.”
Shannon says he’s lived most of his life on the west side of Cedar Rapids and he raised his kids there. “I’ve had family members who lost their houses in the flood. I helped them dig out their house after it basically just became a huge, flooded garbage dump. I don’t have a lot of respect for people who assume their safety in the hands of other people. If you want to buy a house next to something that they won’t insure, don’t live there!”
Polls find many people in Cedar Rapids want a flood wall on both sides of the river and they want to take the first steps to get there, but big questions remain, like, what happens if the federal government doesn’t pitch in its share of the money? As yet, there is no Plan B. If the measure passes, money from the sales tax extension would be used to fund a flood protection system on both sides of the Cedar River.