Increased flood projections prompt emergency city council meeting Thursday night
By Ryan Gueningsman
Delano City Council met in emergency session Thursday night to discuss preparations for projected flooding that could hit the area as soon as Sunday, March 14 and into early next week.
City Administrator Phil Kern said in light of recent rain, the National Weather Service shows the Crow River getting to just under 20 feet by Tuesday or Wednesday. This is about the same level the city saw in 2001, and is also comparable to 1997, Kern added. Flood stage is at 16.5 feet.
“Wednesday is shown to be the crest, but it is a pretty flat line out there,” Kern said. The warning issued by the National Weather Service Thursday afternoon does not account for any additional rain that may fall Friday or into the weekend.
Kern explained the city council may call an emergency meeting without the regular three days posted notice in the event there is potential for public safety issues.
Kern said city staff met for about five hours earlier in the day Thursday to put together a response to the latest flood projections, which were issued about 12:30 p.m. Thursday. City staff has been meeting regularly to plan for potential flooding issues and concerns, he noted.
“If it stays as is, Delano’s been through this before,” Kern said, adding that city staff generally knows what needs to be done. “I have a high level of comfort if it happens as it states.”
The council cited the longevity of employees public safety director/fire chief Bob Van Lith and public works employee Tim Schrupp as very beneficial in knowing the history.
Kern said city staff wanted to review several “unknowns” with the city council Thursday night. He said the weather between Thursday night and through the weekend could raise the flood level to beyond what it was in 1997.
“Secondly, today (Thursday), the river is still frozen for much of the way,” he said. Because of the rapidness of conditions, it’s likely a majority of the ice will not melt.”
This could cause “ice dams” and push against the bridge on Bridge Avenue, becoming a collection point and backing up the river to the south.
City staff spent considerable time Thursday talking about the possibility of ice jams at Bridge Avenue.
“In 1965, that was one of the biggest problems they had was ice jams damming up at the bridge,” Van Lith said. “That still will be a concern.” It was noted the city will begin getting resources in place and have equipment lined up so that Sunday or Monday action can be taken to perhaps break up the ice.
He said the final issue he wanted to discuss was the city’s levee/dike.
“There is no reason to believe the levee is any worse or better off than in the past,” he said. In 2001, there was a situation where boulders had to be dropped onto the dike to assist in stabilizing it.
Other necessary precautions and preparations have also been taking place, including public works staff checking flood gates, putting up small pumps in locations around town, and making sure any gaps are taken care of.
As of Thursday night, Kern said city staff have been in communication with representatives from Xcel Energy, which has property located on Bridge Avenue just northwest of the bridge.
He noted the company’s staff was in the process of evacuating that building, and that is one of the first locations a floodwall will be placed beginning Friday. Kern said city staff is working to get a hold of other business that may be affected, including Three Crows Cafe and Coffee Shop.
Kern proposed the city take two actions, beginning Friday. With more rain expected Friday, Kern said it’s a smart bet to begin doing some of these things sooner rather than later. The council agreed.
Actions to be taken
Kern said it is likely city staff will put out a call for persons interested in volunteering for sandbag efforts or other necessary duties Friday.
Persons interested can add their name and contact information to the list, and they will be contacted as needed. Those who wish to volunteer are asked to check in at city hall first.
“Efforts on Friday won’t need a massive effort, but if we have to start protecting River Street, we’ll need more people,” Kern said.
City Council Member Betsy Stolfa said more volunteers may be available on Saturday and Sunday versus earlier in the work week.
Mayor Joe McDonald also suggested the city staff contact Delano Schools Superintendent Dr. John Sweet about the possibility of getting senior high students if sandbagging efforts become necessary to that level.
Sandbagging efforts will begin Friday in the area of Xcel Energy, located just northwest of the bridge spanning the Crow River on Bridge Avenue. A second area of focus will be on River Street, just north of the newly-constructed Highway 12 bridge spanning the Crow River where the river bends. These are the two areas that would likely be first affected.
City Engineer Vince Vander Top of Wenck Associates said the city is also going to talk with Wright County about the possibility of closing Wright County Road 17 (River Street) if necessary to erect a floodwall north of the Highway 12 bridge, if necessary.
The council also directed staff to sandbag around the city’s lift station to ensure that continues to function, and also the area of Oak Avenue, north of the old Granite Works facility.
A “phase two” of sandbagging efforts would be in the area across the street from the Delano Post Office, to the north, on the west side of River Street. Vander Top said the west sidewalk along River Street is a likely place for this barrier to be erected.
The total size of these floodwalls would be approximately 1,500 feet, ranging from two to four feet high, and utilize about 1,300 cubic yards of material.
Vander Top said these would be built with contractors and public works staff. He said a cost would be about $20 per cubic yard, for a total of around $30,000 to build this.
“We estimated it’d take around a day to build that,” Vander Top said, but asked the council when it would feel comfortable to “pull the trigger” on the area across from the Delano Post Office and on that area of River Street, since that area has a slightly higher elevation than some of the other immediate target areas like the Xcel area and further south down River Street near the new Highway 12 bridge.
By noon Monday, the city have to make the call if it will do phase two, the council felt.
“It may be earlier,” Vander Top said. “How the bridge on Bridge Avenue behaves is going to be the indicator.”
“We think we’ll be able to react pretty quickly,” Kern added.
City staff admitted it doesn’t have a way to protect Three Crows Cafe and Coffee Shop, since the business is located right on the river.
“If it does what it’s forecasted to do, there will be water on the back side,” Kern said.
The council discussed options for obtaining necessary equipment to do some of the things needed to protect the city. Council Member Brad Hotchkiss suggested contacting Cemstone locally and also a company from Elk River that he has knowledge of.
Breaking up the ice
“We’ve had minor ice issues on the bridge before,” Van Lith said. “If you look at the river, it’s all ice. That usually isn’t the case for us. I think it’s our main issue.” Van Lith said it’s important to keep the water moving.
“How do you do that?” asked Council Member Betsy Stolfa.
Van Lith said city staff is arranging to have a crane or backhoe come in, and said the city has looked at different options, including possibly even a wrecking ball to pound on the ice, similar to how the old Highway 12 bridge was taken down several years ago.
“There isn’t a good option,” he admitted. Van Lith said the present bridge deck is set higher than it was back in 1965, which is a good thing.
He said the steel and concrete are also thicker in the current bridge. He said there is also a water main and a gas main located on the bridge, and the council discussed if one or both of these would need to be shut off or relocated. Van Lith said in either case, it shouldn’t be noticeable by the general public.
“That’s an issue we’re looking into,” Van Lith said.
Vander Top said if the ice backs up the water level, the next place for it to go is River Street, stressing the importance of trying to break the ice so it will flow under the bridge.
“Tomorrow (Friday), we’ll be making sure we have equipment lined up and at the ready,” Vander Top said.
The council also discussed the new lift stations the city has, noting they are totally operable and have recently been tested and inspected to ensure they are ready to handle large volumes or water.
Keeping people informed and communication of the event as it unfolds is another priority of the city.
“The local media has been doing a good job keeping up in it,” he said, adding the city has been contacted on a regular basis by Twin Cities-based media, as well.
“We’ve had quite a few people calling asking a lot of questions,” Kern said, adding it’s been a combination of a lot of new residents and also those who have lived in Delano and been through this before.
Other items in the city’s emergency plan are also in the process of being completed, including minor things like erecting a snow fence in the area of River Street near the river to keep people back from it.
Doing simple things like this, and following the city’s emergency plan, could benefit the city later if it has an opportunity to recoup any funds from the state or federal government.
Unless a federal declaration is made, the city is relatively on its own for paying for operations. Kern said the city can request Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty declare a disaster area if it gets to that point, and said at that point the National Guard can be called in for assistance if necessary.
Hotchkiss asked if the predicted 50-degree weather for next week will help or hinder flooding. It was noted the warm weather will melt the snow at a faster pace.
Stolfa asked if the bridge would be stressed from either the ice hitting the base of the bridge, or equipment placed on the bridge to break up ice beneath it. Vander Top said it will be inspected after the event is through.
The council did not adjourn the emergency meeting, noting that the council can reconvene at any time to make a decision necessary in the best interests of public safety.
It was noted the city staff would do its best to post and make the public aware of any future meetings and actions.
To view the National Weather Service’s projections, visit http://www.crh.noaa.gov/ahps2/hydrograph.php?wfo=mpx&gage=delm5