By Amy McCall
Lanesboro Public Utilities (LPU) Commissioner Don Bell said it best: “Why would you put critical infrastructure on a sandbar in the floodplain, next to a river that floods?” This dose of common sense matches the wisdom of city leaders that set a 1998 (and still current) policy of no development in the floodplain. State floodplain hydrologists came to town a few weeks ago and also recommended no development in the floodplain. DNR’s floodplain recommendations are expected to become mandatory by state rule, and are based on American Society of Civil Engineers best management practices. The LPU Commissioners attended that floodplain presentation. The city council was invited, but did not attend. The mayor dropped by for part of the presentation.
Armed with expert advice, the LPU put a moratorium on the city’s proposed use of the Hwy 250 bridge site for the development of a new sewer plant. However, LPU Commissioners were not permitted to explain the reasoning for the moratorium during the June 3 city council regular meeting. The city attorney informed the council that they did not need to pay attention to the moratorium, and the council chose not to engage in discussion about its merits. They ignored the advice of the LPU, the DNR, and the wisdom of the city’s own policy. Instead, the council passed new floodplain ordinances, after deleting DNR’s recommended language that defines a wastewater treatment facility as a “critical” facility. The council also deleted the DNR’s recommended minimum elevation of a critical facility in the floodplain.
The city council is rightly concerned about front-end costs, but has directed their engineer to focus his design on the Hwy 250 bridge site, simply because it’s near the old sewer plant. Less cost in piping and pumping sounds good, right? Well, the site is actually not big enough for the engineer’s design, so the city has now expressed interest in purchasing the adjacent home. That’s right, the proposed sewer plant site is in a neighborhood – right at one of only five entrances to the city.
Now let’s get back to common sense. When you make a multi-million dollar investment, it not only makes common sense to listen to experts, but to also thoroughly evaluate risk. However, the city has not performed a risk assessment, or an economic impact analysis to see how this proposed site would affect long-term facility costs or the bottom lines of community businesses. The Chamber of Commerce and the Economic Development Authority would likely be willing to assist in those efforts. At the very least, the city should have spoken with the local fly fishing shop and the local outfitters that bring 3,000 people per week to town and put them on the river. Many of those tourists get out at the Hwy 250 bridge and walk back to town to spend their money at community businesses. If they have to walk by a sewer plant, how likely are they to get back in the water or even to come back to town next time?
Lanesboro dodged a bullet earlier this year with flooding caused by a huge snow melt. A huge ice dam formed near Rushford and Houston. Fortunately, we had three and a half weeks of cool, dry weather. A couple inches of rain during that period or an ice dam closer to Lanesboro would have been a disaster — reshaping the river bank and destroying critical infrastructure. Many folks in town have witnessed the power of the Root River when it gets up out of its banks, and they have the common sense to stay away from a flooding river.
If the sewer plant gets damaged or destroyed by flooding, the engineer won’t pay for it. FEMA will be off spending billions of dollars on hurricanes. The city can’t count on the state for a bailout because the state budget is unpredictable and the state has recommended against building in the floodplain. Who does that leave to pay for the mistake the city is about to make? Local taxpayers!
Now that the community is talking about this project, hopefully the city will listen to common sense.