No easy answers

Published 12:00 am Saturday, April 14, 2001

Hope is on the horizon for the businesses along East Main Street affected by a week of high water and flooding.

Saturday, April 14, 2001

Hope is on the horizon for the businesses along East Main Street affected by a week of high water and flooding.

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A dry forecast for the weekend, coupled with ice-out on the lakes, might mean the worst of the flooding is over – at least for this year.

&uot;We’re looking to this break in the weather to get us out of trouble. We’re all exhausted over here,&uot; said Sandy Bolinger, Union Center club manager. &uot;Right now we’re just hoping we can make it through the Easter weekend.&uot;

The Union Center has been pumping water for more than a week, trying to keep the flood waters from taking over the building. Friday, the water was more than three feet up the building’s back outer wall.

&uot;It’s been a tough week. The rains on Wednesday put us back to square one,&uot; Bolinger said.

Bolinger met with an insurance adjuster Friday, and came away with an advance check to pay the more than 20 workers who have helped her fight the flood. But she’s concerned that insurance is going to become impossible given the flooding of recent years.

&uot;High waters and flooding isn’t a fluke for us anymore. It seems like we end up dealing with it to some degree every year,&uot; Bolinger said.

She’s also concerned that, even if the flood waters recede, the building won’t be ready for a benefit dinner Friday and a banquet scheduled for Saturday. Clean-up will take a long time, she said. She hopes the city, county or state can find some way to prevent more flooding in coming years.

&uot;We need to do something to avoid this situation in the future. We can’t do this every spring,&uot; Bolinger said.

Bolinger thinks building a dike and putting in more storm drains might help, though she admits it would be expensive.

But Albert Lea Mayor Bob Haukoos, who visited the Union Center Friday, said there is little the city can do.

&uot;It is a chronic problem, and this year ranks up with 1965 and 1993 as one of the worst flooding years on East Main,&uot; Haukoos said. &uot;But, if the area is sitting at lake level, I don’t see how we can avoid the problem. I think the water is always going to find its way there.&uot;

Haukoos said East Main is part of the state’s trunk highway system, so raising the road will fall to the state. But even if the state were to elevate the road, it wouldn’t fix the problem for the businesses in the area, he said.

&uot;A higher road surface might hold more water back. Access would still be a problem,&uot; Haukoos said. &uot;I don’t think a dike is possible either because it would have to be so long to do any good. I don’t know what the answer is.&uot;

According to City Engineer Dave Olson, city workers already have their hands full dealing with the high volume of water going through the storm and sanitary sewer systems.

&uot;We’ve had the street department and utility guys working 24 hours a day since Wednesday’s rain. I can’t say enough about them. They’ve had a long winter, and now they’re having a tough spring,&uot; Olson said.

Wednesday night, as two inches of rain fell across the area, Olson said the city had to install eight pumps at various locations in town to bypass the sanitary sewer system. He said the waste treatment plant was handling a volume of 23 million gallons. A normal day is only about 5 million.

&uot;When we handle that much volume, there’s a danger of shutting down entirely,&uot; Olson said. &uot;I’m glad we avoided that.&uot;

Olson said the water levels on Fountain Lake and Albert Lea Lake are still a few inches lower than the floods of 1965 and 1993. But the water levels have remained high for an unusually long period.

&uot;The ground is supersaturated,&uot; Olson said. &uot;All the streams that feed Fountain are running at capacity. Only some dry weeks can fix the problem. It has to run its course.&uot;

Meanwhile, the businesses along East Main wait for normalcy. Premiere Video, the Union Center’s nearest neighbor, has managed to stay dry, said manager Julie Linnes. But the store is still closed, hoping to open in a few days.

Hanson Tire and Godfather’s Pizza are still waiting to reclaim their parking spaces, currently under several inches of water.

And the drivers of the Albert Lea must endure heavy traffic on Bridge and Clark and other driving delays caused by high water.

&uot;I know the flooding is much worse in other towns, but we’re suffering just like them,&uot; Bolinger said. &uot;This is a serious problem, and it’s right in the center of town.&uot;