Flood project gets $5 million (with video)

Published 4:00 pm Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Public Works Director Jon Erichson shows on a map the area that the flood mitigation project will span.

The Austin area will soon be better prepared to deal with flood season.

Mayor Tom Stiehm announced Wednesday morning that the City of Austin has received a $5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce for flood mitigation projects along North Main Street.

“It’d be hard to overestimate how big this is for the city,” Stiehm said. “This (grant) is the major component of what’s left to do, monetarily speaking.”

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Stiehm said the grant money will be used to protect North Main, which is parallel to the Cedar River, from Interstate 90 to the municipal swimming pool. The city will be building a flood wall and raising the street level to protect area businesses along the corridor.

The grant will also create and preserve jobs in Austin, city officials said.

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“There will be a lot of construction jobs created from this, plus the jobs that will be saved on North Main,” Public Works Director Jon Erichson said.

Up to 1,000 jobs could be preserved by protecting businesses along North Main from future flood damage, according to Stiehm.

City Administrator Jim Hurm said that by preventing North Main from flooding in the future, new businesses may feel comfortable moving into the area.

“We feel strongly that there will be growth in the area,” Hurm said. “(The project) is a long-range, comprehensive plan.”

Stiehm agreed that the project will make growth in the area a more viable possibility. He also indicated that protecting the existing businesses is a top priority for Austin.

“It’s huge that we protect North Main,” Stiehm said. “It’s important that these businesses know the city will protect them.”

The North Main flood mitigation project is going to take about 18 months to complete, with construction beginning in 2011. Stiehm said he hopes to complete the project before another flooding incident occurs.

Erichson said the design for the project and the flood wall needs to be completed and the city needs to work on easements and acquisition from the swimming pool to I-90 before construction begins.

The project is set to cost a total of $9.5 million; the costs that aren’t covered by the grant will be paid for by the DNR bonding bill for flood mitigation and the city’s local option sales tax, which is designated strictly for flood mitigation. The city currently has about $3 million in the local option sales tax fund, according to Hurm.

Stiehm, Hurm and Erichson all agreed that the Department of Commerce looked favorably on Austin because of the amount of local dollars the city has to contribute to the overall cost of the project.

“In Austin, we’re taking care of the problem,” Stiehm said.

Hurm added, “We’re bringing a lot of local dollars to the table.”

However, Stiehm said the $5 million grant is vital to the North Main flood project.

“It’s huge,” he said. “It was the best news we could have gotten. (The project) wouldn’t get done without the $5 million.”

For video, click here.