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DNR issues Afton grant for flood mitigation

Flooding downtown might be just a distant memory for Afton.

Afton City Council entered into a grant agreement July 19 with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources for a flood mitigation grant.

Afton began discussions about levee and drainage improvements about a year ago when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers informed the city it had to make improvements to its existing levee to continue in its flood program.

Improvements that need to be made include: culvert repair, drainage, easements, grading, brushing and the removal of pipes are used for pumping.

Around that same time, Afton was awarded a DNR grant to help fund improvements in the Old Village. The grant would cover constructing an accredited levee, drainage system improvements including storm water lift station, trunk storm water system and storage basins.

Improvements would bring solutions to recurring flood impacts, reducing pollutant leading to Lake St. Croix and minimizing taxes over the next 10 years.

Additionally, the improvements could potentially help with the revitalization of the Old Village.

The total cost of improvements to the Old Village will be $4.5 million.

The city would be responsible for funding $1.8 million worth of the improvements.

A possible funding option under consideration would be a one-time tax increase for the benefiting properties within the floodplain.

The taxes would be increased once and remain for the duration of the project. Once the project is completed, the taxes would go back down.

The properties within the floodplain would be eligible for decreases in their flood insurance.

Under the tax-increase plan, an appraiser would come out to the properties, determine the value of the house - including flood improvements - before identifying the tax increase.

Another possible funding option would be to look to the city's legal reserve fund, since all of Afton's lawsuits are now complete.

The first step City Council will take in the process in have its city engineer, Diane Hankee, put together a report of property values and possible assessments.

Initially Council member Joe Richter wanted to conduct an appraisal and benefit analysis for all affected properties, however the cost of that would be between $8,000 and $10,000.

Additionally, other council members felt that the numbers wouldn't provide that much information. Initial estimates stated that 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 commercial properties.

In the end, City Council agreed to have Hankee compile a report as to save on funding up front, but still provide information to residents.

"I would like to know I have their buy in," Mayor Pat Snyder said.

However a comprehensive appraisal report will be compiled once the project gets underway, which could potentially cost between $40,000 and $60,000 and is not eligible for reimbursement by the DNR.

Once Hankee presents the report, and the DNR goes back to work, City Council will begin work on defining specific objectives and projects and identifying funding options.

"The project is only a good idea because we are trying to ensure the long term viability of the town," Council member Bill Palmquist said.

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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