Flood averted as river falls

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Burlington Northern Sante Fe and Riley Construction excavators work to clear ice floes from the Chippewa River at the BNSF railroad bridge next  to Minnesota Highway 9 West Sunday morning. As the ice was cleared, the river level dropped, reducing the flood threat to northwest Benson.

By Reed Anfinson
Publisher
Swift County Monitor-News

Just in case all the right elements came together to create a flood threat to the Benson community, the city council took at tour of the vulnerable areas March 18. City Manager Rob Wolfington laid out options for fighting a flood, depending on how severe it became, and sought council direction on the steps to implement.

Over the weekend, two of the three ingredients came together to cause the Chippewa River to rise rapidly – warm temperatures melting the heavy and moisture-laden snow pack, and the river ice breaking up, then lodging against the pylons of the Burlington Northern Sante Fe railroad bridge. The third feared ingredient, rain, stayed to the south.

When the council took its tour the river was at 9 feet at the National Weather Service monitoring station at the U.S. Highway 12 bridge. It was a comfortable 8 feet below the record flood stage recorded at the bridge and 5 to 6 feet below where it would start to causing flooding issues.

By Thursday, March 21, the river was up 1.5 feet to 10.5 feet and rising rapidly. Friday it rose another 1.6 feet to 12.15 feet with the river swelling as the ice began to break up.

Saturday the river level jumped more than 2 feet to over 14.5 feet. Wolfington was watching the river daily and giving the city council regular updates. Riley Construction, which had an excavator stationed next to the BNSF bridge, had been notified to have its operator ready to go.

By Sunday morning the river was up to 16.5 feet and rising. A jagged jam of ice floes was stacked up on the river, blocking the flow of floodwaters beneath the BNSF bridge.

Wolfington, Mayor Terri Collins, Police Chief Ian Hodge, Public Works Director Dan Gens, Swift County Emergency Services Director Bill McGeary, Fire Chief Jeff Reuss and Officer Brennden DeHaan stood on the east bank of the Chippewa near the Minnesota Highway 9 and BNSF bridges planning flood fighting strategy.

Water was flowing across the Benson Golf Course and approaching the Hawleywood subdivision across from the golf course’s service road. If it topped the road it could flow into the homes. Water was coming up from the storm drains on Meadow Lane and floodwaters were approaching the housing addition from the wooded area on the north.

The city requested BNSF get an excavator on the railroad bridge to break up ice floes in the middle of the river and asked Commerford Construction for an excavator. T&K Kennedy Excavating of Benson supplied a fourth excavator, which was used to clear ice at a private bridge north of the Benson Golf Course.

It was also agreed that the city would lay down a line of large sandbags covered with a polyurethane wrap along the golf course service road starting at 2 p.m. Members of the Benson Fire Department were on hand to assist the city crews when they starting placing 8-foot by 4-foot polypropylene “Bagsters” on a 400-foot stretch of the golf club service road.

Meanwhile, the Chippewa River reached a peak of 17.5 feet, a half-foot over the previous record of 17 feet....
 

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Pictured:  Burlington Northern Sante Fe and Riley Construction excavators work to clear ice floes from the Chippewa River at the BNSF railroad bridge next  to Minnesota Highway 9 West Sunday morning. As the ice was cleared, the river level dropped, reducing the flood threat to northwest Benson.

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