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Newport man takes flooding in stride

Flood waters from the Mississippi River innundate the property of Jim Walsh in Newport. William Loeffler / RiverTown Multimedia1 / 2
Flood waters partially submerge the garage at the Newport home of Jim Walsh. Mississippi River levels are exepcted to fall this week after cresting April 1 at 19.83 feet. William Loeffler / RiverTown Multimedia2 / 2

NEWPORT — Jim Walsh shrugs when asked how he copes with the flooding at his riverfront home in Newport.

“I knew what I was getting into when I bought the place,” he said.

The self-described “river rat” has lived on Cedar Lane for 23 years. His current home abuts a deteriorating earthen levee that he admits is “weeping” more the older it gets.

He ticks off the years the Mississippi River has burst its banks — 2014, 2011 and 1993. But Walsh subscribes to the Huck Finn philosophy.

“You love the river and you respect it,” he said of his sometimes rowdy neighbor.

Repairing the levee would cost the city of Newport more than six times its annual budget. Instead, the city used a combination of state and federal aid to purchase and demolish homes in the flood prone area.

Walsh said he’s staying put.

“Would you give this up?” he said gesturing to the vista commanded by picture windows in his living room.

Some people might say yes, because, well, there’s a heckuva lot of water in his yard. Canada geese skim blithely by his half-submerged garage.

“There are challenges and challenges are meant to be met,” he said.

Those challenges include going four days without more than an hour of “contiguous sleep,” while he tended to three pumps that he estimates are pumping 600 gallons of Mississippi River water a minute. It costs him about $125 a day to keep them fueled, he said.

Newport Mayor Dan Lund declared a state of emergency at the March 21 City Council meeting in response to the flooding.

The worst could be over — the Mississippi River at St. Paul crested at 19.83 feet and is expected to begin falling. But it will be a long, slow retreat.

“It’s going to stay high for a long time after that,” National Weather Service hydrologist Craig Schmidt said. “We still have an awful lot of water to move through the system.”

William Loeffler

William Loeffler is a playwright and journalist from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He worked 15 years writing features for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. He has also written travel stories based on his trips to all seven continents. He and his wife, Michelle, ran the Boston Marathon in 2009. 

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