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Enterprise Journal

St. Ansgar officials tab nearly $40K in funds to rectify frequent flooding

Jul 24, 2020 03:02PM ● By Savannah Howe

The city of St. Ansgar will be making several drainage improvements this year, according to Mayor Keith Horgen.

A history of culvert neglect and improper ditch shaping, caused by unavailable funding or manpower, has led to a network of issues in the drainage system on 3rd Street going west, from Cedar Lanes to Clausen City Park.

The project will begin on the southwest corner of W 3rd and N School St, by the home at 112 N School. The six-inch culvert will be replaced with a 12-15 inch one; the wider culverts have the capacity to handle larger volumes of water runoff. That, in combination with removing excess rock, sediment and debris from the ditches, will help prevent the rain drainage from overwheming the ditches and running off onto the streets–a popular problem in a surface drainage city like St. Ansgar.

One of the culverts, visibly caved and deteriorated, that will be replaced. These culverts are anywhere from 50 to 60 years old.

“This problem has been growing for years,” said Mayor Horgen. He stated that the city should have switched to a storm sewer system in the ‘30s, but such a conversation would have a multi-million-dollar price tag now. “In a surface drainage town, ditches are important. They keep the water out of your basement.”

The project continues down 3rd going west to the alley behind the Food Center, where an 18-inch water intake will be added to the west of the alley that is the Food Center’s exit and the driveway located at 115 N Mitchell to help manage rainwater runoff. That driveway will have to be disrupted for the project, at the homeowner’s expense.

Culverts that are 18 inches in diameter will replace the ones at 3rd and N Mitchell, which are 50-60 years old. A property owner on this block, to the west of Mitchell St, installed their own underground culvert to manage the flooding and drainage issues. However, since the homeowner reportedly couldn’t remember the size of the culvert he installed, Horgen said that the city has to break ground regardless to find out. If the culvert isn’t at least 18 inches wide, the whole culvert, which covers about half a city block’s length, will need to be replaced. Ditch shaping will continue along the street, too, which will include removal of sediment buildup and better shaping of the ditches to allow a mower to pass through.

Horgen said the council is considering putting large rocks in the ditches to help manage weed and grass growth rather than having to mow.
North Mitchell St will need to be dug up at the intersection with 3rd and will be closed for a short amount of time.

The mayor also explained that, when culverts are too close to the surface, the streets deteriorate quicker than they should. That, in addition to the damage caused by frequent flooding, shortens the streets’ lifespan.

This is why the council oftentimes has difficult decisions to make, in regard to what to invest money in first.

If we don't invest in our ditches we will never be able to invest in our streets. This drainage area is a part of the main artery through town, and it's having a negative impact on the rest of the flow.

“If we don’t invest in our ditches we will never be able to invest in our streets,” said Horgen, who noted that the total amount of street repairs that the city could have done, if money were no barrier, came in with a ticket of $385K. However, with a budget of just $180K in the streets and drainage fund, officials have had to be choosy. “This drainage area is part of the main artery through town, and it’s having a negative impact on the rest of the flow.”

The project continues down the street to the intersection of 3rd and N Washington, where up to a foot of earth must be removed from the ditch on the south side of 3rd street and a whirlpool caused by water backup will be amended. Improvements will be made to the way the water flow crosses 3rd St underground and continues on the south side of City Park.

The mayor explained how the force of the water coming out of the culvert and rushing at a high force into the ditch has eroded the soil up to the park’s sidewalk. An underground elbow culvert will be installed to rectify the issue.

From the park, Horgen said that the water flows smoothly to the northwest out of town, and that these are some major issues that will make simple upkeep easier.All in all, the project will upend three private driveways and one city street. Horgen stated that the work will take a week at most, and the start date will depend on the outcome of a Planning Committee meeting on the first Monday of next month.

At the July 13 regular assembly of the St. Ansgar City Council, officials decided to dedicate $30,000 out of the streets and drainage fund to the drainage improvement project, which could start as soon as mid-August. There are many variables that may affect the cost, however, including whether or not to pay for repaving homeowners’ private driveways at city expense.

The mayor said that the city may decide to delay that cost until the next fiscal year, and mend the driveways with gravel for now, and that he expects the cost for the project overall to sit at about $35-38K.

The drainage improvement project, plus the city’s $120,000 commitment to roadway improvements, puts St. Ansgar’s $180K streets and drainage budget for this fiscal year, which just started this month, at near-capacity. Consequently, Mayor Horgen said that the decision to allocate these funds was not an easy one.

“I don’t like spending more money than I have to, but we need to get this done,” said Horgen. He also stated that the project is too big for city employees, and Osage’s Mayer’s Digging will be doing the work. “Working for the city can be tough, everyone always nagging at you and such. Once this major project is done it will be easy for our great St. Ansgar employees to maintain [the ditches]. It’s my job to make their job easier.”

Horgen noted that the city’s municipal departments have put in great efforts recently, even hiring a third maintenance man to help with regular city upkeep.

“St. Ansgar has so many good things going for them,” Horgen said. He also pointed out progress with the wasterwater treatment facility concerns, saying that the city is waiting on word back from the Department of Natural Resources on an e coli treatment plan. “St. Ansgar may be able to operate with what they’ve got [at the wastewater lagoon] for many years into the future.”