Dayton sizes up metro flooding as road closings spread

The governor checked out the flooding as water enveloped more roads and snarled traffic.

Floodwaters covered more and more roads across the Twin Cities metro area Tuesday, frustrating waterlogged communities and the drivers just trying to get around them.

Fresh from a flood tour to the far reaches of northern and southern Minnesota, Gov. Mark Dayton began a closer-to-home tour Tuesday in Delano, where he met with emergency managers and other officials keeping watch over the Crow River.

On Tuesday morning, the normally docile river was lapping at the bottom of a bridge while the water began to spill out of its banks as onlookers took photos. Three Crows Cafe and Coffee became the flood’s first business casualty when it was forced to close temporarily.

A growing cost

At a gathering with area legislators, Delano officials and police, City Administrator Phil Kern told Dayton that a conservative estimate of damage from the swollen Crow River is already at $250,000 over just five days. That’s 10 percent of the city’s budget.

“For a community this size, we’re spending a tremendous amount of resources, probably upwards of 10 percent of our annual budget, simply in the last five days trying to deal with holding back these waters,” Kern said. “While we certainly enjoy being in the location that we are, it’s a challenge continuing to deal with this over and over again.”

Given the flooding in Delano and in communities from the Canadian border to the Iowa border, Dayton said he wouldn’t be surprised if the state’s $3 million in emergency funds was quickly exhausted. If a special legislative session must be called to allocate more money, first the water must recede so damage can be assessed. “If we have to call a special session, we’ll do so. I don’t want to do that, but we’ve done that before with disaster relief and it’s been cooperative and bipartisan and I expect it will be that way again.”

Dayton surfaced next in Chaska for the groundbreaking of a $50 million flood mitigation project on Flying Cloud Drive, mere yards west of where water just closed the thoroughfare. Attendees crossed floodwaters on a makeshift plywood bridge to reach the event, the submerged Hwy. 101 span behind them.

That stretch of highway used to flood only in spring, Carver County Commissioner Gayle Degler said. Now, flooding stretches into summer and fall.

In 2010-11, floods spurred the desire for a solution. “I don’t want to say it’s a no-brainer, but something had to be done,” Degler said.

Shakopee Mayor Brad Tabke said frequent flood-induced road closings hurt nearby communities. “It’s a huge economic impact to have this closed for everyone around here,” Tabke said. “In particular, our downtown suffers like no other.”

From Chaska, Dayton headed to Belle Plaine for time with Scott County emergency managers and local officials. His next stop was a VFW post in Mendota.

Traffic trouble

In just some of the traffic woes across the Twin Cities, commuters in the south and southwest metro area confronted morning gridlock at crossings over the Minnesota River that remained open after high water closed busy routes in Chaska and Shakopee. The Stillwater Lift Bridge closed Monday and will remain so until further notice.

The latest consequence in St. Paul was the abrupt closing of the vehicle impound lot, south of St. Paul Downtown Airport, “due to possible flooding” of the Mississippi River, police said via Twitter. Vehicles are being moved, police added, with a plea for the public to “please be patient” as the relocation effort unfolds.

On Monday, the U.S. Department of Transportation announced it would release $750,000 to help the state repair flood-damaged roads. More federal money is expected.

Given the effects of the mid-June rainy deluge across the state — mudslides, flooded homes, washed-out roads and destroyed crops — Minnesota could qualify for federal disaster assistance, Dayton said.

Dayton also hopes to make a personal appeal to President Obama for help when the president visits on Thursday. “I will certainly be bringing the subject up with him,” he said.

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