When Fire Chief/Emergency Manager Tim Froeber recently briefed city officials and Crookston City Council members on what went well and what didn’t go so well during the 2013 spring flood fight with the Red Lake River, when it came to what didn’t go well, he kind of beat around the bush.
That’s not a criticism of Froeber’s critique, that’s simply how he approached what he may have felt was a delicate situation. Piggybacking on Froeber’s thoughts, however, City Administrator Tony Chladek was more blunt, saying he was “very disappointed” in the reaction, or lack of a reaction, in a couple of Crookston’s six wards when the river started to rise.
So what happened, or, more accurately, what didn’t happen? Well, the city’s flood emergency response plan going into this year’s flood fight stated that when the river reaches 20 feet, the city’s main emergency operations center at the Crookston Police Department is activated, as are ward command posts in every ward. Those posts serve as the brains of each ward’s flood-fighting efforts.
Trouble is, when an ice jam caused the river to jump past 20 feet, command posts in two low-lying wards weren’t activated. The river eventually dropped in rather rapid fashion, and, overall, the spring flood threat in Crookston and in many other river-influenced communities didn’t live up to the hype.
Still, the matter of the two ward command posts not being activated spurred a meeting of the minds, of sorts, and as a result, the flood response plan has now been modified. While the main EOC will still be activated at the 20-foot level, the ward command posts will from here on out not be activated until the Red Lake River reaches a level of 23 feet.
It’s fairly obvious why this happened. This was the first spring flood fight in which all but a couple of small areas of town were protected by a levee system designed to ward off a river level of 30 feet. While a 20-foot river level still inundates Central Park, it isn’t the significant deal that it used to be, when, for decades, Crookston was protected by “temporary” dikes that were being eaten away rapidly by swift river flows. It’s no wonder the DNR in 2005 concluded that Crookston was the most at-risk for flooding community in the entire state and, subsequently, immediately began funding efforts to build new levees in as rapid a fashion as possible. That work is essentially complete now.
Sure, even the newest, biggest levee can fail at any time. And, sure, if you’re an elected member of the city council and you’re expected to open your ward command post at a certain time, you’d better open it.
Page 2 of 2 - But you can’t blame people for feeling much better about Crookston’s ability to hold back high water these days. The Times asked Froeber if a certain “complacency” had set in, and he agreed that maybe it had.
But maybe the more accurate word is “confidence.” Crookston residents are far more confident in the levees protecting them than they were a few short years ago. That includes city council members.
But, again, you’d better open your command post when policy says you need to. No levee is 100 percent guaranteed to hold up, after all.