WILLMAR — The East Side Drainage Improvements, which will take place between 24th and 25th Street Southeast and Oxford Drive Southeast in Willmar, will be the first stormwater project to be funded using revenue from the Invest in Willmar Local Option Sales Tax.

The goal of the project, which will be constructed in several phases, is to prevent stormwater from land around the project area from flowing into a private stormwater pond in the Cambridge housing development, located just off U.S. Highway 12 on the east side of Willmar.

The first phase of the project, with construction starting in a few weeks, will center around Oxford Drive and 25th Street Southeast. Stormwater structures including catch basins and piping will be installed to minimize the flow of stormwater from outside of the housing development into the development's pond.

"Instead of flowing into the pond, it will flow into the ditch and ultimately into Grass Lake," said Sean Christensen, Willmar Public Works director.

The Willmar City Council approved the first phase of the project at its Oct. 7 meeting. The contract was awarded to Crow River Construction for $52,321.

Additional phases will add even more stormwater structures into the public stormwater system, all with the intention of separating the public system from the Cambridge pond. Christensen wants to start constructing the upcoming phases in 2020. Plans and cost estimates have not yet been completed.

The city first started considering a stormwater project in the area in 2018 when the Cambridge developer came to the City Council asking for the city to remedy problems that led to flooding in August 2016. The stormwater pond rose over its banks and ended up flooding lower-unit apartments.

The council agreed the city would pay the entire cost of the project, which at the time included making a larger pond and outlet pipe. The estimated cost was around $400,000. Christensen said once design of the project began in earnest, the estimated cost rose significantly and his department went back to the drawing board.

It is hoped the redesigned project will be cheaper in the long run and do a better job of keeping water not originating in the housing development from entering its stormwater pond.

"This area was land that needed attention," Christensen said.

Over the next three to four years, the Public Works Department, as well as the Stormwater Subcommittee of the Invest in Willmar board, will be planning the other stormwater projects which will be funded with $7 million in sales tax revenue.

Christensen said possible project areas include the southeast side of town, near the Kennedy and Garfield schools in southwest Willmar, in the Vos Park neighborhood in northwest Willmar and north of the city archery park across the street from Walmart.