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Tom Page of Winona eats his lunch Tuesday, April 12, 2011, at a table along the flooded Mississippi River at Prairie Island in Winona, Minn. Across the state, the end is in sight for a flood season that fell short of earlier, dire predictions.

Andrew Link, Associated Press

Stillwater bridge nears a reopening as St. Croix retreats

  • Article by: JIM ANDERSON
  • Star Tribune
  • April 16, 2011 - 11:27 PM

A blustery, miserably unseasonable couple of days of snow and cold did little to interrupt the slow retreat of floodwaters back into their riverbanks on Saturday.

In the metro area, the St. Croix River at Stillwater continued its steady decline Saturday, when it was a full half-foot below the 87-foot flood stage. It was expected to be 2 feet below flood stage by the end of the week, according to the National Weather Service.

Even in harder-hit western Minnesota, major rivers were going down, and residents were heaving a collective sigh of relief over a combination of weather factors that kept dire flood forecasts from becoming a harsher reality as record snowfalls thawed.

"Instead of the perfect storm, it was the perfect calm," said Steve Jones, city manager of Montevideo, Minn.

The Stillwater Lift Bridge on the St. Croix, closed by high water since April 8, could open late Monday or Tuesday, Stillwater Mayor Ken Harycki said. Transportation officials from Minnesota and Wisconsin, during a meeting Friday in Stillwater, said they anticipated the reopening if the water keeps falling as predicted, Harycki said.

"I'm kind of assuming it will be after the morning rush hour [on Monday], but we'll have to see," Harycki said.

The movable bridge deck remained elevated on Saturday -- a necessary step to protect the 80-year-old bridge's lifting motors -- but the water was noticeably lower than earlier in the week. In nearby Bayport, however, some areas prone to flooding in the south end of town were still surrounded by water.

In St. Paul, the Mississippi River was on a slower pace to normal. The river stood at 17.5 feet on Saturday, according to the Weather Service, but wasn't expected to fall below flood stage for another week.

Downriver, the flooding appeared to be easing as well. The Mississippi at Red Wing was expected to be out of flood stage Monday and in other cities later in the week.

In Montevideo, some areas on the west end of town remain flooded, along with the city's Lagoon Park, Jones said. One sanitary sewer shut down as a precaution may reopen this weekend. Some homes still have water in their basements, but water has not gone higher than that, he said.

An early assessment estimates damage to city property at about $200,000. Federal disaster aid could help defray some of those costs if, as expected, Chippewa County and its neighbors are declared disaster areas.

"If this had been 10 years ago, this easily would have been a $1 million flood," Jones said. Located near the confluence of the Minnesota and Chippewa rivers, Montevideo has taken strong steps in recent years to protect the city from the ravages of repeated flooding.

The city moved its water plant to higher ground and bought out flood-prone properties. It's working toward completion of a three-phase flood mitigation plan that includes elevating Hwy. 212 and rebuilding protective levees.

Jim Anderson • 651-735-0999

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