Residents notified but not evacuated; mayor concerned about treatment plant

Published 10:49 am Thursday, June 12, 2008

Water levels in Austin’s three major tributaries — Cedar River, Turtle Creek and Dobbins Creek — are at flood stage and expected to rise, according to Police Chief Paul Philipp, who said that severe storms late Wednesday night and early Thursday morning has led to road closures, neighborhood notifications and concerns ahead.

“The disturbing thing of us is that as we are monitoring things … even as of yet, even at the Cedar River, we are seeing the water rise about a foot an hour,” he said.

According to National Weather Service meteorologist Mike Welvaert, Cedar River around Lansing Township will crest at about 20.5 feet, a little more than two inches from its current level. The Cedar River near Austin’s water treatment plant is at 19.5 feet — flood stage is considered 15 feet — and the chief said weather service staff expected it to peak at 21 feet.

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“I think that’s at least,” Philipp said, adding that levels are “in the neighborhood” of Austin’s major flooding event in 2004.

Dobbins and Turtle Creeks are also at flood stages. Welvaert said Dobbins has reached 18 feet, and is expected to rise a foot more this morning; Turtle Creek is at 13 feet, and likely to increase to 15 feet by noon.

“What I’m showing now is it’s still going up, not as quickly as it was, but is still rising,” Welvaert said. He added that peak levels include the effects of the half-inch of rainfall expected to fall today.

“It’s looking right now that the heaviest band or rain has passed,” he said.

According to Philipp, police began notifying residents in affected areas around 3 a.m. Thursday. The chief said authorities will not order evacuations; they instead inform residents of water level and encourage precaution.

“They need to take the appropriate measures to protecting their home, protecting their business — whatever they need to do,” he said.

Mower County Sheriff Terese Amazi said most of the county issues occurred in Racine, Pleasant Valley Township, and LeRoy, Taopi and Ostrander, the latter three areas already mitigating flooding because of storms last Saturday and Sunday.

The Mower County Board declared a state of emergency during a special meeting this morning.

Amazi said County Roads 1, 2, 4, 5 and 6 have been closed, and there’s an expectation that County Road 28 and County Road 29 will be barricades later on today.

Interstate 90 traffic has also been rerouted through Eighth Avenue Northeast, and Amazi said the Minnesota Department of Transportation will begin diverting vehicles up Highway 218 North, to Highways 30 and 56.

“218 is going to be an issue with wide loads,” Amazi said, noting road construction there.

Philipp said Main Street and Oakland Avenue East have also been closed, and expressed frustration with those that aren’t honoring the blockades.

“Obviously, if you don’t have a significant need to stay out, stay home,” he said. “Don’t cause problems. People are moving barricades, and it’s frustrating me to no end.”

Philipp and Amazi added that drivers should not attempt to traverse water-covered roadways.

The city of Austin will meet tomorrow to vote on a state-of-emergency resolution; Mayor Tom Stiehm said he was reporting to City Hall to sign a mayoral decree this morning.

His big concern is the treatment plant, he said.

The National Weather Service predicts about an half-inch more rain to fall today, with negligible more until Saturday.

Authorities said they hoped that this would be a short-term event.

“There is a lot of rain up to the north,” Philipp said. “…There’s still a lot of water in the fields and the ditches, and all that has to come through.”