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Benson OKs $125,000 for sandbags to protect flood-vulnerable homes on Chippewa River in west central Minnesota

Benson Mayor Paul Kittelson, right, makes a point Monday as he and City Council members meet with residents in the Golf Road area, including Greg Zniewski, left, to discuss flooding issues. There are 27 homes in the new subdivision that are considered vulnerable to flooding. Tribune photo by Tom Cherveny

BENSON -- Benson City Council members are hopeful that the city can continue a five-decade-long run without serious flooding along the Chippewa River, but are taking no chances this year.

The council members agreed Monday to authorize up to $125,000 for the purchase of 120,000 sandbags, sand and poly-liner.

The supplies will be made available to the owners of 27 homes in the Golf Road area that are considered the most vulnerable to flooding in the community.

Council members made the decision after meeting with some of the affected homeowners. The homeowners offered to help with the expenses, and emphasized the importance of city involvement in flood fighting.

"I just think we can do a better job if we work together,'' said homeowner and local physician Dr. Michael Holte.

The city plans to make the sand and bags available in the area, and allow residents to use it to build sandbag dikes around their homes.

The 120,000 bags are the number needed to protect the area against the level of water that would be expected in a 100-year-flood event.

The city had considered other steps to protect the area, but there were concerns about the costs and effectiveness of those strategies. The city had looked at possibly placing a clay levee along the Golf Road, but that would only be effective if a dike was also erected in a woody, low area on the north side of the housing subdivision.

Protecting that area would be both costly and "problematic,'' City Manager Rob Wolfington told council members as they viewed the area as part of their regular meeting Monday. The best means of protecting the northern area would require purchasing and placing Hesco containers there. The large boxes link together and machines can be used to fill them with material.

It would cost an estimated $85,000 to purchase and install the Hesco barriers, and there were concerns beyond their costs. In that area, they would be under a high-voltage line on low and soft ground. A flood wall there might need to be 8 feet tall to be effective. There were also doubts whether the barriers could be installed in time.

Council members noted that erecting sandbags on the higher terrain around the homes would allow for building barriers as little as 2 or 3 feet in height.

By using sandbags to protect homes -- instead of temporary dikes to enclose the entire area -- the city also avoids the need to block two storm sewer lines in the area.

Council members expressed concerns about possible "unintended consequences'' of blocking the lines. Stopping the flow in the 54-inch and 36-inch lines might cause street and basement flooding in other areas.

Mayor Paul Kittelson and others noted that the main flood issue is the possibility of ice jamming and blockage at the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway bridge, a timber structure with multiple piers. The city has been in contact with the railroad, and it has a track-mounted crane with a clam bucket that it uses to remove blockage during emergencies.

The city also has made preparations to protect flood-vulnerable public structures, including the wastewater treatment plant and civic center.

Mayor Kittleson said that under the best of circumstances, the city might have two to six days of notice if major flooding was likely. Or, the city might have very little notice due to ice jamming or rapid changes in the weather.

"If it comes, it will be a fast-acting sort of thing, real fast,'' said the mayor in reference to the prospects for flooding in town.

Tom Cherveny

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.

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