Marquette, McGregor prepare for flooding

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Marquette mayor Steve Weipert (left) and McGregor street supervisor Ren Pape were already hard at work filling sandbags Tuesday morning. (Photo by Gary Howe)

Jerry Thornton, chief of McGregor Hook and Ladder, has a system down for filling sandbags. (Photo by Gary Howe)

As of Monday, the Mississippi River had already hit minor flood stage—16 feet—at McGregor, and was expected to reach 17.7 feet by mid-week. Marquette and McGregor are now preparing for what the National Weather Service Office (NWS) at La Crosse predicts could be above- or well-above-normal flooding. (Photo by Audrey Posten)

Volunteers needed to fill sandbags

By Audrey Posten, North Iowa Times

Marquette and McGregor are now in preparation mode for what the National Weather Service Office (NWS) at La Crosse predicts could be above- or well-above-normal flooding this spring. 

The Mississippi River hit minor flood stage—16 feet—at McGregor on Monday, and was expected to reach 17.7 feet by mid-week. The hydrograph showed it holding steady at that level through the coming weekend.

“We’ve seen warming temperatures and rain across Iowa, southern Minnesota and southern Wisconsin. A lot of snow has begun to run off into streams and rivers, and some of that is getting into the Mississippi,” said Jeff Makowski, meteorologist at the NWS office in La Crosse, last week.

“But there’s still a lot more to melt farther north that’s not getting into the river quite as fast,” he noted. “The river is rising, but not necessarily to the full extent or potential rise.”

Citing expansive snow cover across the region, as well as significant frost depth, thick river ice and saturated soils due to a wet fall, the NWS, in its spring hydrologic outlook, gave a 95 percent chance that the Mississippi would reach the minor flood stage at McGregor this year. Normally, the river has a 52 percent chance of reaching that level in the spring.

There’s a 90 percent chance it will top 19 feet, which is considered moderate flood stage. The probability of major flooding—22 feet or more—is currently at 59 percent. Other years, the likelihood of a major event is just 9 percent.

“The flood outlook doesn’t look good,” acknowledged Marquette mayor Steve Weipert, “but we’re hoping for the best. All we can hope is that the snow melts slow.”

On March 13, city staff from Marquette and McGregor, along with McGregor Hook and Ladder, the Mar-Mac Police Department, McGregor Municipal Utilities and Bunge North America staff, met to form an action plan to deal with potential flooding in the communities.

“It was a wonderful, willing group of people,” said McGregor mayor Lyle Troester. 

The two communities are now working together on sandbagging operations. Volunteers are currently needed to help fill sandbags at the First Street parking lot, in McGregor, across from McGregor Municipal Utilities, on Tuesday and Wednesday, March 19 and 20, from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. each day.

“One location is better than splitting it in two,” said Weipert. “It’s a community flood, so we’re going to attack it in the same way.”

Volunteers can come for an hour or the whole day; any amount of time is welcome. If you plan to help, be sure to bring sturdy shoes and gloves.

“Hopefully we can get a lot of bags done in a day,” Troester said.

The cities are also going through their individual plans. 

“Everything is being organized,” Troester assured. “We have a pretty good system for each river stage level.”

By mid-week, pumps were already being checked and the batteries charged, and Troester said the goal was to have them placed by this past weekend. City workers were also placing air bladders to plug the sewers. “So they’ll be there before the water comes,” he said.

Should water reach over the moderate flood level of 19 feet and hit the railroad tracks, dikes or barriers will be placed at the end of Main Street to help protect the town. At 25 feet, major flooding occurs in McGregor.

In Marquette, pumps and equipment are also being checked and prepared. 

“We’re already pulling 2011 reports,” when the Mississippi reached 21.32 feet, explained Weipert. “We have a good foot-by-foot operations manual.”

“We’re finding out the supplies we have and what’s needed,” added city clerk Bonnie Basemann.

According to the city’s action plan, by 18 or 19 feet, plugs will be installed in the storm sewers. From 19 to 20 feet, Edgar Street and Pleasant Ridge Road will be built up, along with the intersections at Second and Brown Streets and Highway 76 and Anti-Monopoly Street. Barriers will also be installed at the riverfront. Effluent manholes will be sand bagged at 20 to 21 feet. At 21.5 feet, water would close the railroad tracks near the casino. 

National Guard and Army Corps of Engineers assistance would be requested at 21 to 22 feet, and workers would fill in low spots on the riverfront dike and monitor all dikes for seepage and soft spots. The city would be actively pumping, sandbagging and by-passing the sanitary sewers. Equipment would also be removed from the city shop and buildings. At 23.5 feet, the whole road near the casino would be closed.

“Twenty-two feet is touchy,” said Weipert, “but we think we can handle it.”

But once the river level nears 25 feet, “it’s time to get your stuff and get out,” said Marquette’s public works director, Jason Sullivan.

As the river rises, Weipert said city officials will hold community meetings to pass along information and answer questions.

In the meantime, they’ll place trust in knowledgeable and organized staff and fire department volunteers.

“They’ve done this before,” Weipert remarked, and the communities have faced flood threats before. That experience is helpful.

“That calms your nerves,” he said. “You know you can handle a certain amount of water.”

For more information, contact McGregor City Hall at (563) 873-3795 or Marquette City Hall at (563) 873-3735.

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