The Minnesota Department of Transportation closed the Stillwater Lift Bridge at 9 a.m. Friday, because of the high waters on the St. Croix River. This park bench and iron fence frame the still waters of the St. Croix River.

Richard Sennott, Star Tribune

Support for relief bill rises with waters

  • Article by: JIM ANDERSON
  • Star Tribune
  • April 8, 2011 - 10:50 PM

Even as communities along Minnesota's surging rivers scramble to hold back floodwaters, lawmakers in St. Paul are working on their own response.

While bonding proposals have met stiff resistance from the Republican-controlled Legislature, a plan to raise $55 million for flood mitigation projects across the state has bipartisan support.

The plan targets help to some of the most flood-prone cities: Moorhead, Breckenridge, Granite Falls, Montevideo, Roseau and others. Along with funding construction projects, it includes money to buy properties repeatedly prone to flooding.

"I certainly support that," said Gov. Mark Dayton, touring flood preparation efforts in Stillwater on Friday. "I'd like to see more, obviously. But if we can agree on that, we'll proceed with what we can agree on."

Two other smaller bonding bills would pay for flood mitigation projects in the east metro: One would provide $3.2 million to buy about a dozen flood-prone properties in Newport, and the other would raise $2 million to replace the aging floodwall in South St. Paul.

State Sen. Katie Sieben, DFL-Cottage Grove, a co-sponsor of both bills, said they could pass on their own or, more likely, could end up as part of the Legislature's final bonding package.

The levees in Newport, hurriedly built during the 1965 Mississippi River flood, were never intended as permanent structures. Fourteen years ago, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers declared them deficient. Sand that was used to build them becomes mushy in intense flooding. River erosion, animal burrows and tree roots have further weakened them. In 2004, the city barred stacking sandbags on top of the two levees over fears they couldn't withstand the weight.

The levees have been a vexing issue for Newport. Because they are private structures, any city involvement in improving them creates a legal and financial obligation, attorney Fritz Knaak told the City Council earlier this year.

The city asked for the state's help to buy the properties, Sieben said.

"They've been working on this for a while," she said. "I've encouraged them in the past, but now I think they're ready."

State Rep. John Kriesel, R-Cottage Grove, is carrying the bill in the House, and Dayton backs the plan.

The South St. Paul project would entail demolishing the old floodwall and a pumping station, and replacing them.

Jim Anderson • 651-735-0999

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