Afton’s flood mitigation project receives revisionsAfton’s flood hazard mitigation project has taken a bit of a turn. Afton City Council held a workshop on Oct. 8 to discuss revisions to the project.
By: Amber Kispert-Smith, Woodbury Bulletin
Afton’s flood hazard mitigation project has taken a bit of a turn.
Afton City Council held a workshop on Oct. 8 to discuss revisions to the project.
In July of 2011, Afton entered into a flood hazard mitigation grant with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
The initial vision of the project called for the removal and reconstruction of the Reach 1 levee, partially to resolve the issues of the seepage of water under the levee.
Additionally, a trunk line would be installed to collect and transport the stormwater that would collect along the west side of the levee.
However, in August, City Council learned through a geotechnical analysis that the complete reconstruction of the levee would not feasible based on the soils under the levee.
James Rudd of AET, who performed the geotechnical analysis, informed City Council that eliminating seepage entirely would be virtually impossible because of how deep the sand goes beneath the levee.
The soil below the levee includes clay and sand for more than 80 feet before hitting bedrock.
“All of this sand below the levee is saturated,” Rudd said. “Sand basically has a lot of pore space and water can move through it fairly quickly – under-seepage cannot be stopped completely.”
Rudd said the biggest concern for Afton’s levee is water that comes over the structure.
“If the water comes up, it will carry soil with it and it could actually erode all the way back,” he said. “If the flood last longs enough it could actually wash out the levee.”
Rudd’s proposal to City Council would be to install a toe line – a pipe that would slow the seepage to prevent erosion.
Rudd said a toe line would still fall under the requirements for accreditation by the U.S Army Corps of Engineers.
“Their concern is not how much water gets under the levee,” Rudd said. “What they’re concerned with is that you don’t breach the levee.”
Another change to Afton’s flood hazard mitigation project is in regards to the improvements to occur at Reach 2 of the levee.
Initially the project called for reconstructing the levee in the Reach 2 area.
However, City Council opted to purchase three properties in the Reach 2 area instead since that would eliminate the need to reconstruct the levee.
The purchase of those properties will also increase the size of Steamboat Park.
So far, the city has purchased two of the three.
Additional pieces of the project include the relocation of septic systems currently located in the levee as well as the redirecting of Kelle’s Creek, which can cause problems during flood season since a large portion of the city’s stormwater flows into it.
You’re really put into a position of who you’re going to let flood and who you’re going to let not,” City Council Member Bill Palmquist said. “So, we’re going to let the creek flow naturally into an area where it can flood.”
Former City Council Member Kenn Kopitzke, who attended last week’s meeting, questioned why the city is trying to save a levee that doesn’t work.
“Why are we so married to that dike,” he said. “It doesn’t hold water.”
Rudd and City Council Member Joe Richter disagreed with Kopitzke, stating that the levee in fact does work.
“If you took that levee away the flooding would be much more substantial,” Richter said.
“If you didn’t have a levee there, the whole town basically would be under water,” Rudd said.
The total cost for the flood hazard mitigation project would be about $4.5 million.
Since the grant the city has with the DNR is a 5 percent match, Afton would be responsible for covering $2.1 million.
However, some of the expenses will be covered by Washington County as well as through other grant opportunities.
City Council has not formally decided on the funding structure for the flood hazard mitigation project, however several possibilities that were previously considered included a one-time tax increase for the benefiting properties within the floodplain. Initial estimates stated the approximate impact would be a 7.7 percent increase for $300,000 homes and $500,000 homes and a 5.2 percent increase for $500,000 Another funding possibility is using excess funds from the city’s legal reserve fund.
Oppositions to the project
Several Afton residents, including Afton City Council candidates, and Afton Planning Commission members, Barb Ronningen and Kris Kopitzke, voiced opposition to the flood hazard mitigation project during the workshop.
Resident voiced frustrations over a specific design plan not being in place yet.
“We’re trying to be methodical in this whole process,” Richter said.
“We’re not locked into this project,” Mayor Pat Snyder said. “We’re taking it step by step.”
However, the overriding concern voiced by residents related to how the project was going to be paid for.
“Whatever they do down here is fine as long as it doesn’t cost me any money,” Kenn Kopitzke said. “I don’t have any concerns about it.
“I trust you and I trust the council, but councils come and go and there are people I don’t trust any more than I can throw a penny at.”
Even though the city will use special assessments on benefitting properties for a portion of the funding, some tax money will be used for the project, Richter said.
However, how much is still undetermined.
Afton resident Tom Nolz, a former member of Afton Planning Commission expressed concerns over spending taxpayer money to protect a few private properties and commercial businesses.
“This city has painted itself into a corner to protect private property when they have no business doing so,” he said.
City Council Members Bill Palmquist and Randy Nelson said protecting Afton’s Old Village should be the responsibility of all of Afton’s residents.
“This is our downtown, it’s everybody’s downtown,” Nelson said. “We’re going to protect our downtown.
“If we don’t protect it, the business would all go and then the town’s gone,” Palmquist said. “There’s a historic element to this too.”
Ronningen and Kenn Kopitzke both voiced frustrations over not being properly informed about the project.
“At the eleventh hour citizens are going to come out of the woodwork and torpedo the whole damn thing,” Kenn Kopitzke said.
“Just being more open with it makes people feel a lot more comfortable about it,” Ronningen said.
City Council responded to Ronningen and Kenn Kopitzke by stating that all meetings related to the flood hazard mitigation grant were publicly noticed and open to the public, with the exception of those dealing with the acquisition of properties.
Additionally, Hankee said the flood hazard mitigation materials can be found on the city’s website.
Following the meeting, Nelson sent an e-mail to the Woodbury Bulletin with his response.
“In response to Barb Ronningen’s comment that she doesn't know any of the particulars of the levee project,” he said, “she is the chair of our Planning Commission and has attended most if not all of our council meetings.
“That being said, she should be more up to speed with this project.”
Given that this is an election year, Nelson said he felt last week’s opposition to the flood hazard mitigation grant simply served as election season leverage.
“This is a political season and that meeting was meant to be a candidate bashing session,” he said.
Nelson added that he was disappointed with how the meeting transpired because he was unable to ask questions of the city engineer because of how far off course the workshop went.
“In my opinion, very few questions were asked or answered,” he said. “In fact I still have questions for our engineers that, due to the lack of civility and failure by the mayor to keep order, were never asked.”
Nelson said he would like citizens to remember the flood hazard mitigation project was agreed to unanimously by City Council.
“Accepting the grant was a unanimous decision, so why weren't the mayor and Council Member (Peg) Nolz defending their decision to accept the grant,” he said. “If anything the project has gotten cheaper for the city and is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
The next steps
Afton City Council will continue to review the geotechnical analysis information before next discussing how to approach the sanitary sewer portion of the project.
City Council intends to hold additional workshops as well as a public information meeting where residents can get their questions about the project answered.
“The stars have aligned in a way for this project,” Palmquist said. “If we’re ever going to fix it, it’s now or never.”