Stillwater prepares for spring flooding

On the first day of spring 2023, communities like Stillwater are already preparing for flooding.

According to the city, concrete barriers and fencing will pop up this week along the St. Croix River. Some parking lots and walking paths near the river, including the Lift Bridge, will be closed as the city prepares for water to rise.

City officials on Monday said they expect the river to peak mid-April.

“It’s about planning and preparing ahead of time,” said Shawn Sanders, Stillwater’s Public Works director. “[We’ll be] watching the National Weather Service forecast and see what their forecast will be, and we adjust it accordingly.”

The city held a “Spring Flooding Informational Meeting” Monday night to prep community members on flooding protocols such as temporary construction, parking closures and sandbagging operations.

Starting March 27, sand bagging operations will begin – people can volunteer to fill sandbags here – and construction will begin on a temporary dike.

The city says the dike will be placed on the east side of parking lots, and depending on the river level, it could extend north of the Lofts of Stillwater and south of the Dock Café. The construction is expected to wipe out parking spaces along the river for about six weeks.

“Up north is still getting snow now, so it’s scary,” said Daniel Cornforth, manager of the Dock Café.

The restaurant’s biggest worry is the St. Croix swallowing up their patio season.

“You kind of have to be prepared, I guess, for the worst. That’s kind of what we’re doing right now,” Cornforth said.

Gretchen West, manager of Valley Bookseller just steps away from the river, said she’s “a little nervous to make sure (the bookstore’s) inventories are okay and all businesses are taken care of.”

When spring begins, it’s a reminder for West to look out the window and keep an eye on water levels.

“I have to make sure that it doesn’t affect the books. Books and water are not a good mix,” West said.

Back in 2019, St. Croix River levels were so high that water reached the parking lots right behind businesses on Main Street.

“I think we’re planning for a little bit worse than that,” Sanders said. “They’re seeing a 70% chance of it getting to at least 690, so it’s about a foot or two higher of what we had in 2019.”

With snow mounds still around every corner, major flooding is a big concern. The ground is still frozen, and snow is blocking some storm drains, so water can’t flow or seep into the ground like normal.

People can’t control weather, but city officials said the best thing residents can do is try to stay ahead of it.

“It gets busy down here, and we want people to come visit our town, but if they don’t have a place to park, it causes problems,” West said.

Sanders seconded the sentiment, saying, “It’s a community effort, and Stillwater has always pitched in the last few years. It’s made this kind of a fun project early,” Sanders said.

Cornforth also has confidence community members will support the downtown area.

“[During] past floods the community has always done a really good job of putting together great teams, helping everybody out, and saving the businesses,” Cornforth said.