Corps delays levee project again: Agency cites funding issues; decision frustrates city officials

Mayor Ken Harycki

After Col. Michael Price of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers told the Stillwater City Council in April that Phase 3A of the Lowell Park Levee project was a top priority this year, the Corps has delayed the work on the levee again.

“Our frustration has been that we’ve been working at this so long and it’s tying up our downtown plans,” Mayor Ken Harycki said.

Harycki said based on Price’s comments that the levee was a Corps priority, the city constructed the pedestrian walkway and did some earthwork raising the park to the 50-year flood protection level. In the case of a 100-year flood in the park, it would only require three feet of sandbags atop the 50-year level to keep the water from damaging downtown property.

Currently the city has $500,000 in the project’s fund. Part 3A is the uncompleted phase of the project and includes installing storm sewer and interior drainage systems in the park area.

Price responded via e-mail:

“In order to address environmental contamination issues at the project site and to find a functional portion of the project work that could be accomplished within the limited funding for the project, the city of Stillwater and the Corps revised the current effort to include only construction of a storm sewer system for interior drainage. However, in seeking approval from Corps of Engineers headquarters for the revised effort, questions were raised as to whether the currently available funding can be used for the project. The Corps is working to resolve those questions as quickly as possible.

It is important to note that the project as revised does not include the construction of floodwalls or levees. Also, even if we were able to award a contract now, the work would not be fully completed until next spring.

The Corps of Engineers is committed to resolving any outstanding issues and to working within our available authorities and funding to complete this portion of the flood risk reduction project in Stillwater.”

City Engineer Shawn Sanders said the project has been delayed at least three times from a start date of Aug. 1 to Sept. 15 and after that, to Nov. 1 to nothing done at all this calendar year.

“It’s disappointing,” he said. “The city has other projects to work on and now we have to begin to reassess those projects to see when they can get done.”

Projects that cannot be completed until after installing the drainage system include: a pedestrian plaza in Lowell Park; an amphitheater; downtown parking reconstruction projects, and work on the new Brown’s Creek Trail.

“It’s a big strain on our planning,” Sanders said. “It’s a matter of not wanting to tear things up twice.”

The levee plan was presented to Congress before and Harycki said he alerted Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken to the situation to see if traction can be gained on the project through them.

“It’s a very frustrating situation,” Harycki said. “You feel like Charlie Brown and Lucy with the football. You just try to kick it and down you go again.”

When asked if he believed the project would get finished in the future, Harycki said: “[This situation] shouldn’t really surprise us. These guys are a bunch of clowns. One colonel can lie to us as well as the last one and until I see dirt flying their word means nothing to me.”