Mendota, Mendota Heights solidify plans for final repairs

A portion of Upper D Street is closed off to vehicles because it’s so steep. Here, up the road, a sign instructs drivers to take turns passing, as the street which was once two lanes, has become one due to erosion caused by last June’s heavy rains. (Jesse Poole/Review)
A portion of Upper D Street is closed off to vehicles because it’s so steep. Here, up the road, a sign instructs drivers to take turns passing, as the street which was once two lanes, has become one due to erosion caused by last June’s heavy rains. (Jesse Poole/Review)
Houses loom above Upper D Street in Mendota. Trees and brush were once cleared away from the bluff to create yards with views. According  to University of Minnesota climatologist Dr. Mark Seeley, the removal of natural rooting vegetation may have a hand in the erosion. (Jesse Poole/Review)
Houses loom above Upper D Street in Mendota. Trees and brush were once cleared away from the bluff to create yards with views. According to University of Minnesota climatologist Dr. Mark Seeley, the removal of natural rooting vegetation may have a hand in the erosion. (Jesse Poole/Review)
Construction cones and warning signs inform motorists and walkers that Upper D Street will be facing road maintenance soon. (Jesse Poole/Review)
Construction cones and warning signs inform motorists and walkers that Upper D Street will be facing road maintenance soon. (Jesse Poole/Review)

After last year’s excessive June flooding and the virtual drought of federal funds to repair the widespread damages in Dakota County, Mendota Heights and Mendota are still working on their final fixes nearly a year later.

Along with their county counterparts, the two cities had to look elsewhere for funds after not meeting set “minimum public loss requirements,” disqualifying them for assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

After FEMA’s denial, Minnesota Homeland Security and Emergency Management stepped in, assisting local government agencies with disaster recovery, reimbursing each city 75 percent of costs incurred by the 2014 flooding.

Some of the Mendota Heights projects included culvert repairs on Dodd Road and Marie Avenue, and Willow and Wesley lanes, as well as on John Street and more. Those repair bills reached about $68,000.

But last June’s torrential rainfall — inches upon inches over several days — caused more serious damages in Mendota.

The small city of about 200 residents and approximately 60 houses is located at the confluence of the Mississippi and Minnesota rivers, and some homeowners lost parts of their backyards due to shifting earth, and this significant erosion along the river bluffs during the historic rainstorms.  

Most of the repairs have been made, but each of the two cities has one remaining project.

The leftovers

Public works director John Mazzitello said all projects in Mendota Heights have been paid for and completed except one — the Ivy Falls Creek project.

The portion of the creek that runs between Wentworth and Emerson within Somerset Country Club “still needs attention,” he said.

Gabions — contained pieces of large rock meant for retaining soil — failed there due to the mid-June inundation.

“There’s still a lot of stream bank there to fix,” Mazzitello said. “And that’s one of the principal drainages that West St. Paul uses to discharge their water into Mendota Heights.”

The city chose North Pine Aggregate of Forest Lake as the contractor on March 3. Though the company did not do other work on Mendota Heights projects that were needed in the aftermath of the flood, Mendota police chief and emergency manager Mike Aschenbrener said the company was selected because “they’ve been around a while; have a good reputation, and they meet the right criteria for this project.”

North Pine Aggragate’s bid was also the lowest, coming in at $128,713, which was significantly less than the original estimates of $250,000. This pleased city officials, Aschenbrener said.

But according to Mazzitello, North Pine Aggregate couldn’t mobilize while the ground was still hard from winter weather. So the project will again have to wait a few months, he said.

“The spring came too quickly this year, so now we have to wait till the late summer or early fall when the ground dries out again,” Mazzitello said.

Regarding the timing, he added, the city will also consider the input of Somerset Country Club as this construction project will disrupt its operations to an extent.

The city council has approved the bid, and now the city is waiting for the right time to start.

“None of this puts any substantial private property in danger,” Mazzitello said.

Smaller city, steeper cost

After spending about $35,000 on various pre-winter preparations and short-term fixes, flood-damaged Upper D Street, located on the side of a bluff, is Mendota’s current focus, Mayor Brian Mielke said.

The next phase of repairs will be for “the long haul,” Mielke said.

The torrential rains left several damaging and expensive traces in the small city, but Upper D Street tops the list in repair costs.

The city recently selected Carl Bolander & Sons of St. Paul to be the contractor for the project. Bolander’s bid was $237,000, far less than original estimates of around $400,000.

“A section of our Upper D Street partially failed,” Mielke said. “If it were to have completely failed, some homes could be threatened.”

If another huge rainstorm were to hit this year, he said, Upper D could fail completely, which is why the restoration work is so necessary, he added.

“The recommended repairs have been drawn up,” Mielke said. Those repairs include re-establishing soil-bank reinforcements on the sides of the street.

“They will be securing and creating proper drainage to prevent water from going under the road, which could cause the rest of the road to split up,” Aschenbrener said. “They’re going to dig the banks up, re-stake them appropriately, and secure it all back in, fixing the road surface.”

Mielke said this is expected to be about an eight-week construction project, and that it should be started and completed before August.

Minnesota Department of Transportation has additional projects that, while possibly causing local traffic snarls, will not be financed with local tax dollars. These projects, Aschenbrener said, will be funded by MnDOT.

Concrete to dirt

It wasn’t only pavements and the surroundings thereof affected by the high water levels, Mielke said.

Various bike paths and hiking trails had some severe damage as well.

According to Minnesota Historical Society programs administrative assistant Brenda Williams, the Sibley House, built in the 1830s and located on D Street in Mendota, suffered no damage and saw few issues from the actually flooding.

But Fort Snelling State Park trails that connect the historic site to the park sustained damage, making it difficult and dangerous to enter and exit the park from that location.

Aschenbrener said a section of the River to River Greenway bike trail in Mendota Height’s Valley Park, adjacent to Interstate 35E and Marie, was compromised due to the flooding.

These sites are now repaired, and the hopes are, according to city officials, that the final repairs of that devastating flood will be finished within the next few months.

Jesse Poole can be reached at jpoole@lillienews.com or at 651-748-7815.


Flooding expectations

According to University of Minnesota climatologist Dr. Mark Seeley, 92 percent of Minnesota is experiencing a moderate drought. Though he said it’s “far from an emergency,” he added that it’s a point of concern as farmers head into the planting season.

Seeley, who coordinates weather and climate educational programs with the National Weather Service, the Minnesota State Climatology Office and various state agencies, said recent rainfalls probably have not been significant enough to swing the state out of the drought category.

Most years “there’s snow-melt flooding,” he said, which happens when the ground thaws and leads to a tremendous rush of water in areas that have had persistent snow cover. “That type of flooding is absolutely ruled out this year.”

But Seeley said that doesn’t convince him that flooding is out of the picture this summer.

He noted there’s also another type of flooding. “As we get deeper into the summer, even if we’re in the middle of drought, we’re still susceptible to flash flooding in general if we get some intense thunderstorms.”

Most floods since 2009 in Minnesota, he said, have been the result of sudden rainfall rather than spring snow-melt.

No surprise

Seeley referenced “the terrible drought year of 2012,” when drought disasters were declared in 57 of the state’s 87 counties.

“Even in the midst of that drought we had two devastating flash floods,” he said.

There was one at the Little Cannon River near Cannon Falls, in part affecting southern Dakota County, and more high waters from a powerful thunderstorm in Carlton County and in Duluth at the St. Louis River, which the Department of Natural Resources later called “the most damaging flood in Duluth’s history.”

According to Seeley, trend analysis of Minnesota’s climate history says that flash flooding has become far more common than it has been in the past and that “it’s unusual if we go through a year in which we don’t have a consequential flash flood.”

Building safeguards

“I won’t be surprised if we have flooding this summer,” Seeley said.

City officials from Mendota and Mendota Heights agree, explaining their communities have been taking measures to prevent the sort of flash-flood damage they experienced in June 2014.

“These have all been permanent repairs — as much as can be,” Mendota Heights public works director John Mazzitello said. “They’re not just bandages.”

Seeley said one guard against erosion and river and stream bank collapse is planting deep-rooted native vegetation.

This works, he said, if the soil is relatively rich in nutrients and organic matter, with a medium Ph level.

“It is a good idea to keep [river banks] vegetated, either with woody species or bush or grass coverage” Seeley said. “Something that can take root can help consolidate that soil and not allow it to move.”

In some areas, however, he said the soils don’t support this method and people have to intervene, installing artificial barriers, using gravel and rock barriers like gabions.

This seems to be the main tactic being used in Mendota Heights and Mendota, according to Mazzitello and Mendota Mayor Brian Mielke.

“I’m just a climatologist, but to my understanding, that’s the way most of the cities, that I’m acquainted with, have manipulated their riverbanks and bluffs,” Seeley said. “They often use these artificial, but hopefully effective, barriers.”


 

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