North Main focuses on flood mitigation

Published 10:07 am Wednesday, September 3, 2008

One project is finished and two are likely to be completed by close of the year in Austin’s multi-million flood mitigation plan, according to city engineer Jon Erichson, who said staff will focus on gaining funding for the North Main Project in hopes of making headway on better flood protection for the downtown.

“North Main is the high emphasis now,” Erichson told city council members during their work session meeting Tuesday. “We’re going to complete all of the design work, then pick components of that to complete.”

The city used St. Paul-based firm Short Elliot Hendrickson Inc. (SEH) for a feasibility and engineering plan for the $11.5 million North Main Project, which stretches from Fourth Street Northeast near the City Hall to Interstate 90.

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The project includes 7,500 feet of flood barrier split on the two sides of the Cedar River, infrastructure and road modifications and property acquisition. One phase aimed at protecting the lift station, Packer Arena and neighborhoods east of the Cedar River is already nearing completion, according to Erichson, who said he expects crews to finish the berm-and-wall structure near the Cedar River shore by October.

Erichson is also utilizing two other firms to check soil borings around Mill Pond and develop a topographical and boundary survey of the area. These will be used to inform plans for the North Main Project.

The volume and speed of the remaining work is dependent on funding, he said, noting that right now the city is seeking millions through three funding streams from state and federal sources: the U.S. Department of Commerce, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

The DNR grant is the most competitive, he stated, with more than $75 million in requests for $33 million appropriated by the legislature in 2008. The city sought $5 million.

“We know that we will get something,” he said.

East Side Lake mitigation is the one project finished, Erichson said, adding that flood work in the Wildwood Park area and near Jim’s Supervalu of 11th Street Northeast, also known as the Railroad Revitalization Project, are expected to conclude this year. They have consisted mostly of property acquisition.

That leaves four more projects, including one on Dobbins Creek and one on Turtle Creek. Erichson said he is in conversations with the Minnesota Department of Transportation about pieces of Dobbins Creek mitigation work, in particular modifications to box culverts beneath Interstate 90 connecting the creek and East Side Lake.

The project may prove controversial, he said, because of the varying desires of residents to the north and to the south of the culverts. Those to the south would like the culverts narrowed; to the north, they want them widened.

Erichson will meet with DOT representatives this week and present recommendations to the council during its work session meeting Sept. 15.

The breakdown comes as Austin completes FEMA’s process for reimbursement of repairs following a citywide flood mid-June. Called the third-worst in Austin’s history, water levels caused about $429,800 in damages and costs across 29 categories.

Though not all costs are eligible for re-payment, most are, Erichson said. FEMA will reimburse Austin for 75 percent of costs; the state pays 15 percent, leaving Austin with 10 percent.

Erichson said city reserves will likely cover local contributions.

“So I don’t think you’ll have to come up with any out of pocket costs,” he said.

Four counties — Mower, Freeborn, Fillmore and Houston — were declared disaster areas after thunderstorms swept the southeast region of the state June 7-12.

In his request for federal funding, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty cited a total of $1.76 million in need for Mower County across five of seven categories: $182,000 in debris removal; $190,000 in emergency protective measures; $880,000 for roads and bridges; $10,000 for water control facilities; and $425,000 for utilities. The governor’s disaster declaration sought $8.29 million for across all four counties.