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Montevideo is ready as Minnesota River nears crest, Crews building up ’69 levee

Tom Cherveny / Tribune Bill Strommen, 77, is planning to ride out the 2019 flood and stay dry in his home on Gravel Road in Montevideo. He was born in the home, and stayed with it through all of the floods, he said Thursday.1 / 3
Tom Cherveny / Tribune Tailwaters at the Lac qui Parle dam were reported at 938.12 feet late Wednesday and rising. The record is 941.7 feet in 1997. The waters have risen by 10 feet in the last week.2 / 3
Tom Cherveny / Tribune Volunteer fire fighters and public works employees with the City of Montevideo are adding sandbags to the city's 1969 levee atop an added two-feet of clay placed on it by Duininck's Inc. The city is preparing for the Minnesota River to possibly crest late Friday at 20.59 feet, compared to a record crest of 21.7 feet in 1997.3 / 3

MONTEVIDEO - Like a quarterback calling audibles at the line of scrimmage, Bill Strommer can tick off the list of floods he's witnessed from his home on Gravel Road.

" '51, '52, '65..." and his list continues right to this flood in 2019, which he fully intends to ride out like all of the others. Strommer, 77, was born in this house and has stayed here ever since. And every flood since 1969, he's stayed dry in it.

"This doesn't bother me at all,'' said Strommer on Thursday afternoon. About a football field's distance away, volunteer firefighters and public works employees with the city of Montevideo stacked sandbags atop the 1969 dike that protects Strommer's home and the seven families still living in the Gravel Road area, as well as nearby businesses along U.S. Highway 212 between the Minnesota River and the intersection with Highways 59/7.

The 1969 dike remains the weak link in an otherwise enhanced city levee system. The city is hoping to complete this last link this year. Federal funding was not sufficient to upgrade the entire levee system as originally hoped.

Workers with Duininck Inc. added two feet of clay to the 1969 dike on Thursday morning, fighting slick conditions caused by a brief rain to do so. The sandbags being stacked on it by firemen and city workers are to provide more freeboard just in case waters exceed the crest of 20.77 feet which is expected late Friday afternoon, according to Mayor Jim Curtiss.

The projected crest compares to a 21.7-foot crest reached in 1997, the city's worst flood.

Waters reached the 20-foot mark in Montevideo on Thursday morning, topping the 18-foot level that triggered a series of actions. The city shut off sewer service to the Smith Addition, which includes eight businesses and 17 homes. The shutoff also affects the city of Watson, which sends its wastewater via a pipeline to the Montevideo treatment plant.

The city of Watson has asked its residents to limit water use. Wastewater is being held in a holding tank, and the city has made arrangements to truck it to Montevideo if necessary.

In Montevideo, gas meters were pulled in the Smith Addition and city workers capped storm sewer lines along U.S. Highway 212 on the city's west side. The Minnesota Department of Transportation closed the highway near the 212 bridge, where water tops the road. The detour route follows a county road to Wegdahl, where an earthen dike is being used to hold water back along a Yellow Medicine County road connecting to Highway 212.

Mayor Curtiss said the city's Fire Department and public works crew are taking on all of the flood fighting work on the levee and other areas where there are risks. He said the city has had offers from many volunteers, and has a list of go-to help if necessary, but is hoping to rely on city workers and firefighters.

The mayor said he couldn't say enough about how the firefighters and city workers have taken on the challenges. He noted that Montevideo City Council President Nathan Smith, a member of the Fire Department, took a week's vacation to help with the flood fighting.

That kind of commitment is a big reason why Strommer said he is not worried about staying in his Gravel Road home, even though the mayor advises residents there to leave.

"I give them a lot of praise," said Strommer of the firefighters and city workers on the dike protecting his home. "I don't worry about it. They do good work."

Tom Cherveny

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

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