NEW ULM - It was a problem Tuesday with which the City Council rarely has to deal - finding enough seating for the spectators.
A few people came for the public hearing on the city's proposed 2010 Utility, Street and Alley Improvements - Group I. The rest of the crowd, which spilled out into the hallway, came because they were concerned about what the city was going to do to help property owners on Valley and Front streets survive the impending flooding of the Minnesota River.
The most recent information from the National Weather Service's Advanced Hydrologic Prediction Service, Street Commissioner Tom Patterson noted, was that the Minnesota river had reached a near high of 799.84 feet (above sea level) at about 1 p.m. Tuesday. The river could level off at about that mark until late Thursday when it would gradually increase to a high of 801.2 feet by early Tuesday morning.
However, as Patterson noted, that's bad news for the Riverside folks because "flood stage down there [at 796 feet] is when the water flows over the banks."
He noted that "there's a line along Valley Street that when water reaches that level, it will be difficult to protect that area with water coming up through the catch-basins."
As Patterson added, "It won't help putting in a permanent berm down there if we don't do something about the catch basins, and if you don't protect all of it, one hole in a berm will take you down."
The fact that the "red line" that establishes the extent of the river's flood plain "was moved closer to the river to allow for building doesn't help, either," he said.
"The flood plain is everything within that [area] that has a 1 percent chance of flooding," said Robert Collett, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources hydrologist based in Hutchinson.
While "everything's looking good for the next seven days, it can all change quickly if there's an ice dam upstream [that suddenly breaks loose]," he added.
After hearing comments from the audience, "I think we need to get our Engineering Department together with property owners to see what it takes to get a permanent berm in there [in the Riverside area]," Council President Charles Schmitz said.
"I like the idea of getting a task force together to look at the problem," Councilor Todd Olson said.
However, since First Ward Councilor Ruth Ann Webster, who represents the affected area, wasn't able to attend the meeting, Olson said he was reluctant to talk solutions without her input.
"It's a tough issue; I like the idea of a task force, too," said Councilor Les Schultz.
With talk shifting to the possibility of a permanent berm being installed in the potential flood area, Patterson re-issued his warning that "water can come up from either side of the berm, specially when the water comes up through the storm sewers."
In summation, Schmitz said, "We need the support of the home owners. We certainly don't want to use eminent domain."
The council voted to continue with the current policy of providing weather and flooding data to private property owners [in the affected area], and to not only help identify suppliers of sand and sand bags if residents wish to privately purchase them to protect their property but also to offer the remaining 120,000 sand bags the city still has stored from previous floods to affected property owners, "and making sure they're spread evenly around so a few don't get them all," Schmitz said.
This year's capital improvement plan, the utility, street and alley improvement program, is expected to cost $3,768,897, and the projected bonding need will be approximately $3.1 million, City Engineer Steve Koehler told the council.
However, Koehler reported that one project, 11th North Street and Bishop Lucker Lane in Oak Bluffs Sixth Addition was being dropped from the CIP because "we can't do the project this year."
In other action, the council:
Authorized the issuance of a $150,000 loan from the city's Revolving Loan Fund to American Artstone Company for making improvements to its operations.
Approved the final plat of the Prairie Land First Addition development located at 204-400 20th North Street.
Gave the Park and Recreation Department the go-ahead to start charging an annual $60 locker rental fee on a "trial basis" at the New Ulm Recreation Center.
Approved City Manager Brian Gramentz' request to purchase enough "basic" laptop computers so that the City Council and the boards and commissions can go "paper-less" for their regular meetings. Because all the city's boards and commissions now meet in the City Council chambers in City Hall, the laptops "will stay right here on the council's meeting table to be used," Gramentz said.
Ron Larsen can be reached at email@example.com