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South Washington County cities keep cautious eye on river

The city of Cottage Grove temporarily closed the Grey Cloud Island Trail bridge to vehicle traffic ahead of predicted flooding last week. The bridge was reopened Monday morning. (Bulletin photo by Emily Buss)1 / 4
A boat launch on Grey Cloud Island is underwater after the rising Mississippi River expects to flood parts of south Washington County. (Bulletin photo by Emily Buss)2 / 4
Despite Lions Levee Park in St. Paul Park completely underwater, city officials say the flood isn't expected to damage any other public or private properties. The park remains closed. (Bulletin photo by Emily Buss)3 / 4
Materials for sandbags are available for Newport residents at the corner of Cedar Lane and 16th Street. (Bulletin photo by Emily Buss)4 / 4

South Washington County cities are keeping a cautious eye on the swollen Mississippi River as floodwaters that reached near-record levels last week began to recede.

Last week, the National Weather Service reported the possibility of record flooding in the area and the river overflowed into parts of Newport, St. Paul Park, Cottage Grove and Grey Cloud Island.

Following an emergency declaration Thursday by the city of Cottage Grove, the city closed the Grey Cloud Island Trail bridge as a precaution. City Administrator Ryan Schroeder said pressure from the rising river pushing up against the bridge posed a threat to vehicles crossing the bridge.

The Public Works Department said over the weekend the river level is “significantly below the steel girders of the bridge,” and the city reopened the bridge Monday.

Up stream, however, the Grey Cloud Island Road causeway continues to be monitored.

During an emergency meeting Thursday, Fire Chief Rick Redenius said because the causeway is roughly 10 feet wide — unlike the much wider bridge on Grey Cloud Island Trail — the water looks much higher.

“It’s a smaller opening for all that water to go through but it spreads out farther down stream,” he said. “But we don’t expect the water to go over (the road).”

The city declaration activated an emergency plan for Grey Cloud Island residents.

If the river breaches both the bridge and the causeway, the plan give residents a 12-hour window to either evacuate or make plans to stay on the island. Residents would also be issued parking permits to prevent unnecessary travel from non-island residents.

Redenius said medical personnel will be stationed near the causeway in that event to provide emergency services if needed.

A couple of backyards in the River Acres development in Cottage Grove also were flooded last week.

Residents along Newport’s uncertified levee on the northwest end of Cedar Lane welcomed the mostly dry weekend weather that prevented the Mississippi River from breaching the levee, the city’s Public Works Department said Monday.

Last week, the water was just shy of the top of the earthen levee.

With a handful of properties experiencing flooding not seen in several years, U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum, D-Minn., sat down with the Army Corps of Engineers and city officials to discuss flood mitigation.

Following Newport’s emergency declaration June 24, Public Works Superintendent Bruce Hanson said the river rose to 699 feet above sea level, with the top of the Cedar Lane levee at 701 feet.

The river level was 699.5 feet on Thursday and the city expected it to crest at 699.6. Newport residents should expect the water to remain above flood stage until Wednesday.

If another heavy rain causes the river to breach the levee, there is little the city can do to assist the three homeowners living near it.

Over several years the city has spent more than $500,000 buying homes along the levee with a long-term vision of creating a riverfront park. City Administrator Deb Hill said two of the three remaining homeowners are interested in talking about a buyout.

But with only a few private properties experiencing damage from this flood, McCollum said it’s unlikely the city would receive state aid if Washington County were included in a federal emergency declaration.

However, McCollum said she planned to meet with Gov. Mark Dayton and would bring it to his attention.

“We can see if there are any FEMA grants that the city can apply for,” she added.

Visitors to Lions Levee Park in St. Paul Park will have to wait to enjoy the rivers’ edge as much of the park, dock and boat launch remain underwater.

The Mississippi River flooded the park following the recent rains but isn’t expected to damage any other public or private property, the city’s Public Works Director Rob Weldon said.

Mayor Keith Franke said unlike neighboring city of Newport, St. Paul Park does not have flood-threatened homes along the river and is higher in elevation.

Weldon said Monday that the river levels decreased over the weekend and should continue to decline throughout the week.

“We will keep the boat launch closed until we feel it’s safe and then we will evaluate the boat ramp and the walking bridge to the island,” he said.