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Soul Drainage

August 20, 2018
by Darren Fraser , Emmetsburg News

There is no such thing as the perfect solution.

Palo Alto County contracted with the Spencer-based engineering firm Bolton and Menk to design a solution to the flooding in Drainage District 180. This district stretches from Grand Avenue along the lake, below the Wild Rose Casino and, apparently, into Wisconsin and Illinois. (That may be an exaggeration.)

At the August 8 hearing regarding B&M's proposal, B&M engineer Don Etler provided maps, a spiral-bound engineer's report with foldout maps, assessments for businesses and residences and what appeared to my ignorant Orange County suburbanite intellect a comprehensive presentation on everything anyone could possibly want or care to know about DD 180.

But as thorough as was Etler's report, it failed to mollify many individuals who attended the hearing.

The big reveal, of course, was the project's price-tag: $1.5 million. I am no B&M apologist, and, whereas I know nothing about drainage tile though I am studying--, I do know about engineers. My father was a civil engineer for Bechtel Power back in the day Bechtel built powerplants. Listening to Etler field questions of all varieties from the audience and never lose his composure or become utterly nonplussed reminded me of my father as he displayed the patience to Job trying to explain the intricacies of trigonometry to me when I was in high school. (Well, he did, on occasion, run to the kitchen for liquid reinforcement.)

From a technical point-of-view, Etler cannot be faulted. He is not responsible for the project not going forward when this issue arose years ago. He is not responsible for the increases in cost-of-living expenses. He is responsible for his delivery, which tends to be dry and monotonous; but he is an engineer, not a late-night talk show host.

Kristine Frerichs lives at 405 Grand Avenue. She lives in a two-story house she purchased from her grandparents in 2008. In 2014, her basement flooded following intense rain. She lost her furnace, her water heater, her freezer and pretty much everything else in her basement. She did receive financial assistance from FEMA to help with her losses.

The water rose two feet in her basement in 2014. This year's rain dumped four feet of water in her basement. When the water receded, the basement walls were cracked at the four-foot level. I know this because I went into Frerichs' basement on Tuesday.

Frerichs and her neighbor, Sharon Alderson, attended the DD 180 hearing. Alderson, too, suffered water damage in 2014 and this year. At the meeting, I recognized Alderson from a supervisors' meeting. At that meeting she voiced the complaint she and Frerichs voiced at the hearing: if the city knew about these problems in 2014, why didn't it do anything?

Frerichs is a single, working mother, with one child in college and another set to go in a couple of years. She would like to sell her house in two years, but the issue is pointless because of the condition of her basement. When I spoke to Frerichs Tuesday, her frustration was palpable. "No one is helping me," she said. "FEMA says I have to get flood insurance but since I don't live in a flood plan, I can't."

Frerichs and Alderson presented their conundrum to Etler. This was the sole occasion when I sensed the engineer had no answer because there is no answer. Frerichs cannot sell her house in its current shape; she must disclose the basement's condition to any potential buyer. At Tuesday's supervisors' meeting, Linus Solberg asked Upper Des Moines director Peg Martini if any of the people in 'that area' meaning Grand Avenue could get financial assistance. Or at least have the city pay Frerichs the value of her house and demolish it. Martini did not have an answer.

I bring up Frerichs because I understand her quandary. She feels victimized and powerless. No one has answered, to her satisfaction, why this problem wasn't fixed four years ago. Why did her basement have to flood again? Why did she have to repair her furnace again? Why does she to put up with the stench of mold each day?

B&M's project is huge. At Monday's city council meeting, Mayor Heddinger wondered if there was not a less expensive alternative; one that did not snake across the landscape. Under the proposal, Frerichs would be assessed $1,700 for her house. A pittance compared to what the casino, businesses and other residents would be required to pay. But for a working mother who is the sole provider for her children, $1,700 is no pittance.

There is no such thing as a perfect solution.



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