Flood threat prompts emergency declaration in Washington County
Washington County declared a state of emergency on Tuesday -- with the city of Afton expected to follow suit tonight -- in advance of predicted major spring flooding that could jeopardize portions of the county.
County officials are preparing for floods along both the St. Croix and Mississippi rivers, from Stillwater and its surrounding cities in the north, to Afton, Cottage Grove and Newport in the south.
Afton City Council members were expected to consider a disaster declaration at tonight's meeting.
In Cottage Grove, public safety officials last week briefed residents from the flood-prone River Acres neighborhood, and from rural Grey Cloud Island - which could see the bridges that connect it to the mainland swamped by high floodwaters - on ongoing flood preparations.
Cottage Grove Public Safety will urge Grey Cloud Island residents to evacuate the island when the river appears likely to top the Grey Cloud Island Bridge and the causeway leading to it from Cottage Grove, said Craig Woolery, the city's public safety director.
Public safety personnel will not shuttle island residents back and forth if the island's connections to Cottage Grove and St. Paul Park are cut off, however.
"We don't have the means or the personnel to shuttle people to go to the store or get to work," Woolery said.
That message was reiterated when the township's regular monthly meeting Monday night drew a standing-room-only crowd of residents.
If flooding is as bad as forecasts suggest, County Road 75, the only road that will be open to those on the island part of the Grey Cloud Island Township, will be marooned.
"We're not going to ferry you to work," Town Board member Pam Dupre told residents.
Washington County Public Works Director Don Theisen, who attended the Monday meeting, said there is a "small" possibility that the county would put up cement barriers and put gravel in between them to keep the road open.
County workers inspected the road and more information will be available by the end of the week, he said.
Town Board Chair Dick Adams and other township leaders also met with Washington County officials last week to discuss flood preparations. Wayne Sandberg, assistant Washington County Public Works director, said county engineers probably would not wait for County Road 75 to flood before closing it. The question is whether First Fill is safe.
"We have to monitor the sub soil saturation and ice flows," Sandberg said.
The main question for about 150 Grey Cloud residents who live on the island part of the township is whether the county will close the road.
Township officials, during the 1965 flood, built the road up with gravel from the J.L. Shiely (now Aggregate Industries) limestone mine. They'd like the chance to do that again.
Township officials said that no homes, or water wells, are in danger of being flooded. Most residents have alternate sources of heat and generators if power goes out, Adams said, adding that Xcel Energy doesn't plan to cut power unless a pole goes down. Adams said Xcel will consider putting a repair truck on the island.
Cottage Grove provides emergency services to the island; the city of St. Paul Park provides police and fire service. St. Paul Park is willing to put a fire truck and pumper on the island and police will park a patrol car to respond to medical emergencies and to protect homes left empty by evacuees.
In River Acres in south Cottage Grove, roughly 20 homes could be impacted by a rising Mississippi River. Cottage Grove Public Works will provide residents in the neighborhood with sand and bags, but will not provide the manpower for a flood fight, leaving homeowners to protect their homes on their own.
The emergency declaration Tuesday activated the county's emergency operations plan, enabling county departments to use resources for flood response. Washington County is also now authorized to assist local governments and coordinate with the state and federal governments.
Other communities that have declared or plan to declare a state of emergency include Stillwater, Lake St. Croix Beach, Bayport, Lakeland and Afton.