Years of flood preps paying off in Granite Falls

8:35 AM, Apr 7, 2011   |    comments
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GRANITE FALLS, Minn. - Children frolicked Wednesday along the Minnesota River at Granite Falls, their parents, nearby, engaged in pleasant conversation with friends.

"It's a beautiful day, the rivers high," smiles Mayor Dave Smiglewski. "It's kind of a tourist attraction."

That Smiglewski can be so relaxed, as the Minnesota River rages before him, on its way to a second crest in just over a week, speaks volumes about how much Granite Falls has changed.

"We would be scrambling. Absolutely," he says.

Scrambling, like Granite Falls did in the spring of 1997, one year after Smiglewski was elected, when the city fought the worst flood in its history.

In contrast, "This year we're down to about 200 sandbags we've filled, that's all," smiles the mayor.

Granite Falls is benefitting first from river levels more than six feet lower than '97. But also from more than $15 million worth of flood mitigation, funded with local and federal funds, but mostly with money from the state's Flood Damage Reduction Program. 

Nineteen homes - some among the most historic in the city - are now missing from Minnesota Avenue, which runs along the river. Some were torn down and others moved to higher ground.

"If there were still homes there, we would be sandbagging there right now," says Smiglewski.

Sixteen other homeowners accepted buyouts for their houses on 15th Avenue, while Ralph and Carolyn Hieb are two months from leaving their home, among six on Prentice Steet that are next to go.

"We're going to be missing this place a lot," says Carolyn, "but this is what happens." The rivers come and you have to adapt to them I guess."

Granite Falls' city hall has been torn down and relocated too, among eight downtown buildings demolished as part of flood mitigation.

On Wednesday night a water volume equivalent to the Granite Falls water tower ran through the city every two seconds, yet no one stressed.

Granite Falls didn't surrender to the Minnesota River. It just got out of the way.


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