Newport declares state of emergency ahead of expected flood
The swollen Mississippi River is bearing down on south Washington County and in anticipation of what is expected to be a record flood, the city of Newport has declared a state of emergency.
A handful of properties along the uncertified levee in the northwest portion of the city are already battling encroaching floodwater, which is expected to crest Thursday, with as many as 60 homes in danger if the city’s lift station fails.
Following the torrential rains that moved into the area last week, Newport Public Works Superintendent Bruce Hanson has been on 24-hour watch.
On Monday, Hanson said the water was roughly 698 feet above sea level, just shy of breaching the Cedar Lane levee. And Tuesday, it was at 699 feet above sea level.
“It’s slated to go up another foot,” Hanson said at an emergency meeting Tuesday. “But it seems to back off a little bit as it gets up higher in the river.”
The top of the Cedar Lane levee sits at about 701 feet above sea level.
According to the National Weather Service, hydraulics predictions show the river cresting Thursday with standing water remaining for several days.
“We won’t go below flood stage until next Tuesday or Wednesday,” Hanson said. “And that prediction has stayed the same for the last three days. So I don’t anticipate that to change much.”
Sandbagging atop the levee has begun with materials available at the intersection of Cedar Lane and 16th Street. Pumps, Hanson said, are running throughout the city to push the water back over the levee.
The declaration of emergency, City Attorney Fritz Knaak said, gives Newport Mayor Tim Geraghty judicial powers to move ahead with planning for the impending flood.
“In the case of an emergency (the mayor) is empowered to direct emergency services, empowered to give necessary evacuations,” Knaak said.
The declaration lasts for 30 days, but can be amended or extended based on the severity of the damage.
Hanson said Tuesday the city shut off utility connections to two homes already, with two properties on standby.
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, if the damage is significant, FEMA grants and state aid could be awarded to the city to assist in cleanup efforts.
Currently, Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton has declared emergencies in 35 counties, including nearby Ramsey county.
Cottage Grove to declare emergency, St. Paul Park spared
In Cottage Grove, rising waters have several homes in the River Acres residential development, just south of 113th Street, and on Grey Cloud Island experiencing several feet of river water moving inward.
One couple in the River Acres neighborhood said they spent the last weekend installing several sump pumps. Prior flood events forced them to build a garden-like retaining wall, they said, in the hope that future floods don’t wreak havoc on their home.
The city is expected to follow Newport’s lead and declare a state of emergency during a meeting at 3 p.m. Thursday.
Over in St. Paul Park, however, is a different scene.
The recent heavy rains have put the majority of Lions Levee Park underwater, but Public Works Director Rob Weldon said the expected flood isn’t likely to affect the city.
Mayor Keith Franke said unlike the neighboring city of Newport, St. Paul Park does not have the number of homes immediately along the river and is higher in elevation.
Lions Levee Park remains closed along with the boat ramp and the island, Weldon said.
“There’s about four to five feet of water (at the park),” he said. “Other than that, we don’t expect any public or private property to get hit. We’re lucky.”