Jordan worried about stability of river bluffs

  • Article by: SUSAN FEYDER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 22, 2014 - 2:28 PM

Experts will check out dangers in the big hill behind the town.

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After a landslide damaged the historic Jordan Brewery, the city is looking into the conditions of the river bluff behind the building.

Photo: Courtesy of Tim Roets,

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Following a landslide that seriously damaged the Jordan Brewery, the city is taking a closer look at conditions on the rain-soaked river bluff behind the historic building as well as other areas in town.

An engineering firm with expertise in soil mechanics, including evaluating the stability of natural slopes, recently examined three locations — immediately behind the brewery, behind a home about 1,000 feet north of the brewery and another area on the north bank of Sand Creek near one of the city’s water towers.

The City Council agreed to pay Braun Intertec up $3,000 for a report on the conditions of each site and recommendations on what kind of work might need to be done.

In a memo to the council, Assistant City Engineer Mike Waltman said city staff had recommended the broader look at the hillside because “the slide may be larger in magnitude than is easily visible.”

Braun Intertec’s report was sent to the city last week and identified the slide behind the brewery as the one of greatest concern.

City Engineer Tim Loose hadn’t yet seen the report but said stabilizing the area around the brewery “is not an easy fix.”

The report didn’t have a detailed plan for fixing the brewery site. But it said that at a minimum it would involve removing unstable soil and building a retaining wall. It said the work will be challenging for reasons that include getting into the area with construction equipment and the need to anchor the wall with pilings driven with a large crane from the front of the brewery building.

The report didn’t provide a cost estimate for the project. However, the owners of the brewery recently were told by a different team of engineers that it would cost $7.5 million to stabilize what’s left of the hill in back of their building. None of that would be covered by insurance; landslides typically are not covered by property insurance policies in Minnesota.

Barbara Lee, one of the brewery building’s owners, said they are looking into whether some sort of public funding might be available for a hillside repair project. They are hoping that funding through the Federal Emergency Management Agency could be obtained because the 150-year-old brewery is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Short of that, or funding from the city, Scott County or state, Lee is not sure what can be done to save the building from further damage and restore it so that it is usable again. Renters on its top floor had to evacuate after the landslide and plans by another tenant to put a microbrewery on the ground floor came to a halt.

The brewery and other areas are private properties. One of the concerns raised by city staff was that if the owners choose not to pursue what may be costly repairs, the conditions could worsen “and therefore put other properties or the public at large at risk,” Waltman’s memo said.

“While the landslide damage to the brewery is not the city’s responsibility in the strictest sense, it seems reasonable to me for the city to conduct a full assessment of the situation,” said Council Member Thom Boncher, who supported funding for Braun Intertec’s initial report.

“Another consideration is that we want property owners in Jordan to feel the city will not turn its back on them,” Boncher said.

He said city staffers are doing what they can to find help for the affected property owners, looking into various sources of financial assistance, and trying to steer property owners to those sources.

Braun Intertec said the next steps with regard to the brewery site would include a variety of tests to determine the capability of the soil to support the proposed improvements, like a retaining wall. It estimated the cost of the additional work at about $21,000. As of press time, the council had not yet discussed whether it would fund the additional testing work.

As for the other two areas it inspected, Braun Intertec said neither posed an immediate safety hazard.

 

Susan Feyder • 952-746-3282

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