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Newport resident Steve Svoboda surveys the water encroaching on his Cedar Lane home Monday. Svoboda is one of many residents along the levee that could see significant damage if the water breaches. (Bulletin photo by Emily Buss)

Newport braces for potential record flood

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Recent heavy rainfall has the city of Newport on alert for what is expected to be a record flood if water breaches a non-certified levee on the northwest side of town.

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The rain began last week and hit the area hard, leaving patches of standing water across the city of Newport, Public Works Superintendent Bruce Hanson said Monday.

Since the rain stopped, Hanson has been monitoring the rise of the Mississippi River. However, he said with rain back in the forecast this week water could breach the Cedar Lane levee as soon as Thursday.

“Right now (the water) is about 698 feet above sea level,” Hanson explained. “It’s usually at about (683). The top (of the levee) is roughly 701 feet (above sea level), and there is still expected to be about 2.5 feet of rise yet. And even then it depends on how much more rain we’ll get.”

At the 17th Street and Cedar Lane intersection, standing water became a concern when it sprung up within hours.

“We were here at the intersection earlier this morning and it did not look like this,” City Administrator Deb Hill said Monday. An industrial-sized sump pump has helped alleviate most of the city’s standing water, Hanson said.

“It’s working fine right now but the higher the groundwater gets, the more pressure it puts on the entire system.”

Sandbagging efforts have begun in some parts of the city, including atop the levee near Steve Svoboda’s house.

Svoboda, who lives in the 1600 block of Cedar Lane, has several inches — and counting — of standing water already in his front yard and driveway. While it’s typical for his property to experience some minor flooding each spring, he said this year is different.

“It’s never been like this,” Svoboda said Monday. “I’ve been down here 20, 25 years and it’s worse than it’s ever been. And the duration, the prolonged period of time the water has been sitting here is much longer.”

Hanson said the water level at Svoboda’s property is roughly 6 feet above what is normal.

Last week, Svoboda cleared out the lower level of his home in anticipation of the water reaching his home. And with his driveway already underwater, he parks his car several hundred feet down near the road.

At Svoboda’s neighbor’s home, which sits even lower in elevation, rising water has already reached the deck.

Hanson said flooding like this has only occurred roughly five times during his 20-year tenure.  

“It’s going to be interesting to see this time what happens,” he said. “It’s going to be close.”

The forecast, Hanson added, is released for 24-hour periods at a time and could change.

Newport City Council member Steve Gallagher, who surveyed the area Monday with other city and local officials, including Rep. Dan Schoen, DFL-St. Paul Park, and Sen. Katie Sieben, DFL-Cottage Grove, said resident should be ready.

“Prepare now and prepare as best as you can,” he said.

Because the levee is not certified, the city has very little involvement with the help of homeowners affected by the flooding. Per city ordinance, the city will not use volunteers to sandbag private properties, provide temporary utility services or restore damaged private property.

However, sandbags and sand are available for residents to use. They are stationed at the intersection of Cedar Lane and 16th Street.

The city of Newport is expected to declare a state of emergency Tuesday following an emergency City Council meeting.

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Emily Buss
Emily Buss joined the South Washington County Bulletin in February 2013. She covers local government in Cottage Grove, St. Paul Park and Newport, along with other general assignment reporting. She holds a bachelor's degree in journalism and mass communications from Minnesota State University, Mankato.
(651) 459-4629
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