Our opinion: Time is right for Austin’s bonding requests

Published 6:29 am Sunday, November 8, 2015

The Minnesota Senate and House Capital Investment committees have visited Austin as part of a southeast Minnesota tour, and we encourage them to fund three requests for Austin waterways as part of the 2016 bonding bill.

Cedar River Watershed District and city of Austin officials highlighted the CRWD’s Accelerated Results Plan and projects to improve recreational capabilities near the Ramsey Dam and Fourth Avenue Northeast Dam. The three proposals would make for a $7.8 million investment in bonding funds if approved.

To people from out of town, Austin waterways plans likely aren’t as flashy as a large building project. They’re not the type of plans that will garner or lose votes, which is worth noting heading into a 2016 that will see the entire Minnesota Legislature up for reelection.

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But it’s an investment we urge the committee to support because Austin is requesting them at the right time and after much planning and thought.

These steps are the next logical step for the community’s water efforts.

When it comes to Austin’s waterways, the community is well on its way to addressing the big community needs. The city of Austin has taken several steps to buy flood-prone properties through its flood mitigation efforts after several serious floods, including the record 2004 flood. Austin also completed the North Main Flood Control projects to help prevent floods.

Since 2013, most local leaders have been confidently saying that Austin’s flood mitigation efforts have worked. While a portion of Interstate 90 just west of the 11th Street Northeast bridge is still prone to occasional flooding, big rain events aren’t as serious as they once were.

With Austin’s flood mitigation efforts showing success, it’s logical that Austin turn its focus elsewhere.

The first project, the CRWD’s 25-project Accelerated Results Plan, certainly compliments Austin’s flood mitigation efforts by looking to slow water flows on the Cedar River and Dobbins Creek during peek flood events, which will in turn improve water quality.

It’s a forward-thinking plan. The plan is to retain water during peak events for about 48 hours through 25 retention areas.

CRWD leaders are seeking $4.2 million from the state to supplement $1.2 million put up by the CRWD and $3 million put up by the Hormel Foundation.

“If you can reduce the flows coming through Austin and through the rest of the system then you’re going to have better water quality as well,” CRWD Resource Specialist Justin Hanson said.

The other two projects focus on recreation. They are about improving underutilized waterways in the Cedar River and Ramsey Mill Pond.

Community leaders are seeking $3 million in state bonding dollars for the Ramsey Dam area and Ramsey Mill Pond near The Old Mill Restaurant to acquire more land, build two miles of trail, restore a railroad bridge, improve the dam and build public amenities to improve the area. They’re also seeking $600,000 for the Fourth Avenue Northeast Dam area for flood control retaining walls, restoring the old mill site, for stream bank restorations and to study dam conditions. The plan is to create a trailhead and dam portage for the Cedar.

These three projects, a $7.8 million investment in the community, come at the perfect time. After years of flood mitigation efforts, these plans will take a key step toward the CRWD’s long-term goals while beginning to shift Austin’s focus toward recreation and the future.