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Bemidji City Council: Tyler Ave. flood control plan advances

A study on possible options to address flooding in the Tyler Estates development is moving forward - but the city probably cannot afford any of those options.

The Bemidji City Council on Monday voted unanimously (Councilor Roger Hellquist was absent) to do a Phase 2 study that will refine preliminary results and look at several possibilities to fix flooding.

The minimum cost of the potential options is expected to total at least $1 million.

"The difficulty I have with this is if we don't have the money to go forward ... we can spend the $23,000 but the plan is going to sit on the shelf," said Mayor Richard Lehmann.

A Phase 1 plan, completed by Barr Engineering for $9,000 in city funds, identified five potential options. All of them will cost at least $1 million, according to Public Works Direction/City Engineer Craig Gray.

The cost for the next study, a Phase 2, is $23,500. The council's approval was contingent on receiving $5,000 from Bemidji Township and about $7,800 (one-third the total cost) from the developer, Steve Hill.

"I think one-third, one-third, one-third would be fair," said Councilor Ron Johnson, advocating for asking Bemidji Township to share in a three-way cost split.

Lehmann pointed out that townships do not typically have a lot of money in reserve and would, himself, be quite happy if the township was able to come up with $5,000.

The city of Bemidji tried to develop a collaboration of partners - Hill, Bemidji Township, Beltrami County, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and Soil and Water Conservation District - to come up with funding to solve the flooding.

But few responded favorably to the city's request.

"Nobody's anxious to throw any money at this," said City Manager John Chattin.

Councilor Greg Negard made a motion that the city go forward with Phase 2 even if the township and Hill do not contribute. But, that motion failed due to a lack of a second.

"These are our residents and I think we need to step up to the plate," Negard said.

Bemidji Township met Monday night to consider Bemidji's request. The result of that meeting was unknown at press time.

The Phase 1 study revealed that 5.7 to 6.8 inches of runoff came into the Tyler Estates area between March 15 and March 25 this year. That amount equals a "50-year event," meaning that the chance of garnering that amount of runoff in any given year is about 2 percent.

The study proposed five options that would protect the neighborhood from a 100-year event.

The estimated costs of those options ranged from $900,000 to $4 million; those figures do not include the purchase of property required for easements.

Those options include:

- Installation of a pump station in Tyler Estates, along with 2,500 feet of pipe along Tyler Avenue and Brinkman Drive. A ditch would be graded to convey flow to the Mississippi River. Existing ponds would be regraded for additional storage. Cost: $1.3 million to $2 million.

- A gravity outlet to Lake Bemidji (to the west) through the construction of ditches and earthen berms and roadwork. Grotte Avenue and Chippewa Drive would be reconstructed to carry the storm water to a new culvert under Lake Avenue. Additional ditches would be constructed from Lake Avenue to Lake Bemidji. Cost: $900,000 to $1.3 million (not including approximately 17 acres of necessary easements).

- Provide storm water runoff storage in upland areas of the watershed and limit and the amount of runoff that reaches the low area of Tyler Estates. This would require the construction of additional upland ponds resulting in the excavation of about 325,000 cubic yards of material. Cost: $2.7 to $4 million (not including approximately 40 acres of easements).

- Construction of a levee around the Tyler Hills development (similar to that in East Grand Forks). Tyler Avenue would be raised and the existing pond would be increased. Two homes would have to be acquired by the city and demolished. Cost: $1.2 to $1.9 million.

- Purchase and demolish the five lowest homes that are at the greatest risk for flooding. Cost: $1.6 to $1.7 million.

Brian Grund, with Freeburg & Grund Inc. said he believed the city should conduct the Phase 2 work to get updated topographical information and more accurate data.

"Maybe you don't ever do a $1 million project," he said. "Maybe you do incremental things without doing one huge project."