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Flood concerns grow in Newport, as floodwaters expected to spill over levee

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Flood concerns grow in Newport, as floodwaters expected to spill over levee
Hastings Minnesota 745 Spiral Boulevard 55033

With the Mississippi River set to rise rapidly this week, Newport officials are warning that floodwaters appear very likely to spill over an 800-foot-long levee that protects a low-lying neighborhood on the city's west side.

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River levels are expected to reach flood stage Thursday, the National Weather Service predicted in its latest forecast. And Newport Public Works Supervisor Bruce Hanson said that based on current forecasts he expects floodwaters to top the weakened, more than 40-year-old levee the first or second week of April.

"It's gonna happen," Hanson said, citing current models that predict an 80 percent to 90 percent chance that the Mississippi will reach an elevation of at least 700 feet at Newport -- the highest point of the levee.

U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum toured the muddy, endangered levee with Newport officials on Friday, the second stop on a whirlwind tour of the flood preparations under way in her St. Paul-area 4th District.

Newport Mayor Tim Geraghty and Hanson briefed the St. Paul Democrat, whose district includes Newport, on the danger that predicted near-record Mississippi River flooding poses to the sandy, poorly maintained private levee that protects around a dozen homes from high waters.

McCollum also visited a levee in South St. Paul on Friday, and made two stops in St. Paul at a flood command center and the Holman Field airport.

State lawmakers Sen. Katie Sieben, DFL-Cottage Grove, and Rep. John Kriesel, R-Cottage Grove, have proposed using state-borrowed funds to help purchase properties near the levee that would be in immediate danger should floodwaters breach the dike that was haphazardly constructed following historic flooding in the late-1960s. Gov. Mark Dayton has also expressed support for the measure.

Federal assistance is unlikely, though, McCollum said Friday.

Still, even a successful legislative effort to help mitigate Newport's levee situation won't aid homeowners near the river this spring.

In 2004, the city of Newport approved a policy declaring that it would not sandbag the levee because of safety concerns. The floodwall, weakened by the root systems of hundreds of trees growing out of it and animals burrowing through it, turns mushy when saturated, City Administrator Brian Anderson has said. That makes it too unsafe to mass volunteers atop it like in 2001, when hundreds of volunteers used thousands of sandbags to fight back record floodwaters.

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