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Afton waits, prepares for emergency

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Afton City Council declared a state of emergency in advance of anticipated spring flooding at its March 15 meeting.

Afton is anticipating a major flood based on National Weather Service projections, Public Works Director Ken Johnson said.

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The NWS is projecting that this year the St. Croix River has a 90 percent chance of reaching major flood stage at 89 feet and there is a 20 percent chance the St. Croix River will reach the level of the record-setting 1965 flood, which submerged the Stillwater Lift Bridge and closed County Road 21, with a height of 94 feet.

Recent predictions indicate the St. Croix could reach flood stage as soon as March 21 and reach major flood stage by March 28.

"We are out of our experience range with some of the predictions," Council member Bill Palmquist said. "The rain is the great unknown."

Flood preparations

City Council approved a flood preparation recommendation from the Community Health Emergency Preparedness Committee at last Tuesday's meeting.

The recommendation is to place sandbags up to the height of 692 feet at the south side of the city's levee and up to 695 feet on the north side of the levee.

The number of sandbags could be from just a couple thousand all the way up to 30,000 depending on how much the river floods.

Additionally, pumps will be placed on the north side to capture any seepage that comes through the levee.

Afton is also looking for volunteers to man the pumps since at least two people are needed at all times.

However, there are no plans to divert or dam up Kelle's Creek, like the city has in the past, since it is believed that would likely overwhelm the city's ability to pump the back side of the levee.

Even though there are no plans to divert the creek, the city is hoping to place concrete barriers along it.

"There's no clear right answer," Palmquist said. "But this seemed like the best bet."

Johnson said he agrees with Palmquist that even though the plan isn't ideal for the houses on the south side, it's the best available option.

"We did spend a lot of time looking at the options," he said. "This looks like our best chance of surviving this flood."

Additionally Washington County's Emergency Operations Center will be at the Lower St. Croix Valley Fire Department firehouse on St. Croix Trail in Lakeland.

Previously Mayor Pat Snyder said she thought Afton had between $8,000 and $9,000 available in its special activities fund for flood purposes, but Council member Peg Nolz said she believed it to be closer to $11,000 or $12,000.

Access to easements

An important aspect of this year's flood preparations will be to gain access to residents' easements for use, Council member Randy Nelson said.

"We have to be able to get in there with the sandbags and do the work," he said.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers needs access to the easements so workers can go onto residents' properties in order to lay sandbags and other flood-related precautions.

Several residents spoke during last week's meeting about not wanting to give up their easements permanently since it would open up the floodgates for other uses.

"Our concern is that here all this was done, and the water never came up," said Marj Weir, Afton resident and owner of the Sail Away Café. "We're all for saving properties, we don't want the water to come in, but we don't want overkill."

After some discussion, the residents appeared to come to a consensus with the city in allowing for a temporary easement for flood purposes.

Johnson said he foresees the city putting out the sandbags within soon.

The Community Health Emergency Preparedness Committee will discuss flood preparation again Thursday at 2 p.m.

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Amber Kispert-Smith
Amber Kispert-Smith has been the schools and Afton reporter at the Woodbury Bulletin since 2008. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota. She previously worked as a reporter for Press Publications in White Bear Lake.
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