MONTEVIDEO — Hundreds of volunteers risked their lives to stack 1 million sandbags and save Montevideo from certain disaster in the flood of 1997.
It cost about $1 million just to wage the 1997 flood fight, and the damage to private and public properties was estimated at well over $5 million.
The lessons were learned. Montevideo has removed more than 100 homes from harm’s way since 1997. It has built up much of its levee system. It has literally become a national award winner as an example of floodplain management, City Manager Steve Jones told Rep. Alice Hausman and members of the Capital Investment Committee she chairs in the Minnesota House of Representatives as they toured the community on Thursday.
Except, the job is not done and Montevideo remains at risk for a disaster of the magnitude it so narrowly escaped in 1997.
It is asking the state to provide about $3 million in bond funds to complete the work on upgrading the city’s levee system. A federal appropriation of $7 million has been spent on a project that has allowed the city to upgrade two-thirds of the system.
The remaining one-third of the levee remains vulnerable. Originally built under emergency conditions in 1969, it leaks like a sieve and is not high or strong enough to hold back the waters of a 100-year flood event.
“With phase three not completed, we still have a very weak link in the system and we could still lose everything, including the wastewater plant. So if we lost the plant, we lose the whole town,’’ said Jones as the committee members rode by the levee in a bus.
If that portion of the levee were to fail, floodwaters would cover about one-third of the community within 20 to 30 minutes, and would likely remain for four or more weeks.
The floodwaters would close U.S. Highways 212 and 59 and Minnesota Highway 7, which intersect in the city. The waters would cover the Twin Cities & Western Railroad line in town. And they would inundate the newly upgraded wastewater plant, causing sewage backups throughout the entire community.
The city has tried unsuccessfully for more than 15 years to obtain more federal help. Its previous $7 million appropriation represents the maximum allowed by federal law. The city’s hopes for getting special legislation and new funding from this Congress are not very realistic, Jones told the committee members.
The city expects to invest up to $1.1 million in its own funds toward the project, the maximum it can under state statute.
Engineering and land acquisition are nearly complete, and work on completing the levee could begin quickly — if the funds can be found, said Jones.
“We just need to get over that last hump,’’ he said.
During the committee visit, city officials also outlined their proposal to construct a nursing home for military veterans. They pointed out that the city has lined up $2 million in pledged funds for its construction and owns a 13.5-acre site on which it would be located.
Committee members also heard a $15 million request from the Minnesota Valley Regional Rail Authority to continue its work to upgrade the 95-mile short line running from Hanley Falls to Norwood Young America.
The counties of Carver, Sibley, Renville, Redwood and Yellow Medicine created the regional authority to own and maintain the important freight rail line, Bob Fox, Renville County Commissioner, told the committee members.
Its economic benefits to the region grow by the year, he said, pointing to two separate, nearly $5 million expansions by cooperative elevators in Morton and Delhi as among the more recent examples.