City declares state of emergency in preparation for floods
NEW ULM — The New Ulm City Council declared a state of emergency in preparation for possible spring flooding and said it would make 150,000 sandbags available to New Ulm residents.
The Nation Weather Service’s (NWS) flood prediction is New Ulm will experience moderate to severe flooding during the spring. The measures of preparing for this event are underway. Special mitigation measures to protect the community, such as clearing storm water catch basins, have already been taken but further preparation required the city’s approval.
Emergency Manager and Police Chief David Borchert said declaring a state of emergency is the first step in potential Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and Minnesota Homeland Security Emergency Management (HSEM) public assistance funding. This will also authorize flood relief procurement to purchase necessary supplies for flood mitigation, such as sandbags.
Borchert said by declaring the emergency, the city has the ability to purchase sandbags and other materials without going through the standard bid process and possibly receive reimbursement from FEMA at a later date.
At this time it is unknown how much flooding will occur in New Ulm. Borchert said if it appeared the Cottonwood was going to exceed 20 feet they would warn residents in the flood plane.
During the meeting, Assistant City Engineer Joseph Stadheim said ice on the Cottonwood had recently broken up and the river dropped from 17 feet to 14 feet. However, the Emergency Management Committee said the Cottonwood’s condition could change quickly. The NWS was predicting a 50 percent chance Cottonwood could reach a record flood level.
“The only predictable thing about the Cottonwood is that it is unpredictable,” Borchert said.
New Ulm resident George Glotzbach said at 22 feet the flood waters would reach his living room. There was a 10 to 20 percent chance of the water reaching this level. He encouraged the emergency management team to develop an early warning method as many of the residents in the affected neighborhood were senior citizens.
Borchert recommended residents sign up for the Nixle emergency alert system. Through the Nixle alert system, residents can receive alerts on their phone as a method for early warnings.
Street Superintendent Curt Curry said the city had 350,000 empty sandbags available. The city could also build a berm to protect the houses near the Cottonwood, but any plan would need to be put into action immediately and there was no guarantee an extreme flooding event would occur.
If the city built a berm and no flooding occurred, FEMA would not reimburse the city.
In addition, the 350,000 sandbags would need to be filled. Borchert said the city did not have staff available to fill all the sandbags and hiring volunteers opened the city up to potential liability. However, the city could provide the sandbags to New Ulm residents free of charge. He said Brown County had already authorized a similar agreement to provide sandbags to the public.
After declaring an emergency, the city agreed to offer 150,000 sandbags to the public. This leaves the city with 150,000 sandbags to protect city infrastructure. The motion also allowed City Manager Chris Dalton to order additional sandbags if needed.
The Emergency Management Committee said additional sandbags could be purchased and brought into New Ulm with a day’s notice.
The sandbags will be available to the public, but providing the sand is a different issue. Curry said property owners could have sand delivered to their property from multiple private companies.
The sandbags will be available at the New Ulm Street Department at 2020 N. Broadway starting at 1 p.m. Wednesday.
During the meeting it was stated the extreme flooding is expecting to occur on the Cottonwood. The Minnesota River is not predicted to flood beyond its typical flood stage.
Public Hearing for 2019 Utility, Street and Alley Improvements
A public hearing was held on the 2019 capital improvement program. The project includes reconstruction and grading for sections of Front Street, Second South Street, Spring Street, Schell’s Road and a storm sewer extension to the National Guard Armory. City Engineer Steve Koehler said this was the largest capital project of the year.
During the hearing, a few residents asked questions regarding the Front Street improvements. Don Sellner asked about the assessment cost. Koehler said the value of the improvements to each parcel of land was estimated at $3,300. The full assessment for the improvements will likely take place next year.
John Fritche asked if a neighborhood meeting could be set up before reconstruction.
Koehler agreed a meeting could be arranged after the project contractor was selected.
The preliminary cost of this project is $4,105,124, with a bonding need of approximately $2.4 million.
The council authorized the bid award for the German Park amphitheater design, construction administration and observation, to Bolton & Menk. This action was unanimously recommended during the March 11 New Ulm Park and Recreation Commission meeting. Bolton & Menk submitted the low bid, not to exceed $65,604.
The city currently has $444,100 set aside for this project. The total cost for the first phase of the project is $497,423.85.
Later in the meeting, the council approved a $100,000 donation from Barbara Haroldson and $3,000 from Dr. Ann Vogel for the amphitheater project. The council also authorized a grant application to the Carl and Verna Schmidt Foundation of Rochester in the amount of $20,000 for the amphitheater.