Controversial St. Paul Airport Flood Wall Becomes One-Day Tourist Attraction
It's been three years since the city of St. Paul built a flood wall along the Mississippi River. It was built to keep the water out of Holman Field.
On Saturday, the airport turned the once-controversial project into a tourist attraction.
It was all about creating good will in the community. More than 1,000 people turned out to learn more about the flood wall.
Airport officials said there was no doubt the 95-hundred foot wall had to be built. But after years of tension from the wall's opponents, a public event never seemed practical--until now.
Pat Mosites, the airport engineer for Holman Field, conducted the tours. "We work with the National Weather Service to determine what the flood event is going to be, so we can take the appropriate action," he told one group. "once the flood waters start coming in, we monitor the wall, we see what kind of seepage we have, if we need to install additional pumps, Obviously, though, in a flood event if we didn't have the wall, all of the aircraft here would leave."
Flooding has been a problem at the airport for generations. St. Paul native Dick McCarthy, who came for a tour, recalled a big one in 1952. "I was able to look over the damage that was going on at the time. Where we are standing was underwater. We lost the airport," he said.
The '90s saw repeated problems but the biggest flood of all was in 2001. Still, the notion of a permanent flood wall was hotly debated for years. Environmentalists, especially, worried how the wall would alter river flow elsewhere. There were also concerns that the wall was, well, just plain ugly.
Mosites begs to differ. "If you've ever been on the river or been across on Warner Road you can't see it because of all the vegetation that exists right now."
It's been decades since commercial flights flew in and out of Holman Field; the airport's runways can't even accommodate larger, heavier jets. It's primarily used now for private planes--about 90,000 land and take off every year.
Since its completion in 2009 (it took two years to build), Mosites says the wall has stopped rising waters, and averted problems on several occasions. "We wanted to protect our infrastructure, and our pavements from having to be replaced a lot more often than they are," he said.
Saturday's tourists seemed impressed. Jeff O'Brien of White Bear Lake said, "It was something that was needed. You gotta protect the airport."
McCarthy says he can't understand why it took most of his lifetime for leaders to act. "How much time does it take to do something that needs to be done," he said.
Mark Saxenmeyer can be reached at email@example.com