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Planning, mitigation steps by some Minnesota towns kept even worse flood damage at bay


ST. PAUL, Minnesota — Steps taken in recent years to better deal with deluges of water spared some Minnesota communities from damage they tended to see when lakes and rivers rose in the past.

Minnesota Public Radio News highlighted some of the flood-fighting efforts Thursday ( ) by towns that removed homes, built levies or redesigned landscape.

Owatonna, Inver Grove Heights and New Ulm are among the places that erected levies or took homes from flood plains to minimize future damage. And it has largely paid off.

Since the 1997 floods that took a costly toll, roughly $700 million has been spent by federal, state and local governments to shore up flood-prone communities, said Kent Lokkesmoe, director of capital investment with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

Wednesday in Moorhead, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced a $50 million conservation initiative to help reduce flooding in the Red River Valley.

Still, damage totals keep rising from Minnesota's worst flooding in years. There's been at least $48 million in damage to public roads, bridges and structures. Emergency management officials continue to tally the costs as they prepare to put in a request for federal disaster aid.

Such assistance will probably go to cities such as St. Paul, which dealt with a Mississippi River that rose to major flood stage, covering a key artery and recreation areas.

But a seven-block housing area not far from the river's banks came out fine. That's because governments protected the river's edge with walls, paths, gullies and a hill. Even if water reached the buildings, they were built on garages designed to take in water. Residents of apartments and condo complexes breathed a sigh of relief.

"I thought, 'Why live next to a river? They're gonna flood,'" Beth Hillemann said last week. "Here I am, living next to a river and it's been fine with this flooding."

St. Paul also helped with flood protection by reinforcing banks, installing flood walls and employing pumps. Up river at the downtown airport, removable flood walls have kept the airport open through high river levels.

The city spent decades "taking action to flood-proof itself," said city engineer John Maczko.

Information from: Minnesota Public Radio News,

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