MONTEVIDEO — A nearly generation-long effort to provide Montevideo with protection against floodwaters like those seen in 1997 and 2001 is on the verge of completion.

Workers with Tunheim Construction of Moorhead, Minnesota, are upgrading the 2,300-foot-long, south segment of the 1969 levee that runs along Gravel Road. Fed Serve of Fargo, North Dakota, is the project’s general contractor.

A $3.5 million allocation of state bond funds is making it possible for the community to complete the levee upgrade, the third and final segment of an overall levee rebuild in the community, according to City Manager Robert Wolfington.

Ever since 1997, many in the community have been working to secure the funding and make possible the levee upgrades, he said. All of the hard work, he said, has been about making the city safer.

Waters in 1997 and 2001 flooded homes and businesses in the Smith Addition, displacing hundreds of residents and disrupting retail and manufacturing operations. The floodwaters also threatened city infrastructure, including the water plant and wastewater treatment facility. Volunteers helped the city stack tens of thousands of sandbags in a race with the rising waters to prevent even greater losses.

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The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers developed plans for the levee upgrade and, with a $7 million federal appropriation, completed upgrades on levee segments and the addition of pumping stations in 2009 and 2012. State and local funds have provided the remainder of the estimated $17,350,000 investment.

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Support from local legislators has been critical in obtaining the bond funds that have made it possible to reach this point, according to Wolfington.

The 1969 levee was built during emergency conditions in the 1960s. The current upgrades involve both widening and raising its profile by five to seven feet with the addition of an estimated 85,000 cubic yards of material. Pumps will also be installed as part of the project. A clay base will also be put in place.

Work on the levee is scheduled to be completed in early December. The city will work with the Corps of Engineers to certify the levee as providing protection against a 100-year flood event.

The certification is very important to the project, Wolfington said. It will lower flood insurance costs for homes and businesses in the protected area. The Federal Emergency Management Agency is completing work on new floodplain maps, and is waiting for the levee certification to make it possible to remove the newly protected properties from a high flood-risk designation.

Wolfington is optimistic that the city’s entire flood protection upgrade will be finalized early next year. One remaining piece of work is an upgrade to the Twin Cities & Western Railroad crossing. The concrete needs to be improved in a system that allows the crossing to be closed during floods.

Along with improving flood protection infrastructure, the city has been active in mitigating flood dangers by removing structures from flood-prone areas. It built a new water treatment plant outside of the floodplain, and secured funding to make it possible to purchase more than 100 residential properties.

Floodwaters on the Minnesota River in Montevideo crested at 23.90 feet in 1997, and at 22.25 feet in 2001.

The third-highest recorded crest occurred in 2019 at 21.98 feet. Wolfington said that the flood protection efforts in the city proved their worth in 2019, when the high waters caused minimal disruption. City workers and the Montevideo Fire Department worked to place sandbags on the 1969 levee now being upgraded as a precaution, and no significant flood losses were experienced in the community.