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Drained if you do, drained if you don’t

September 19, 2018
By Darren Fraser , Emmetsburg News

The Palo Alto County Board of Supervisors will vote Wednesday whether or not to approve the Drainage District 180 improvement plan. Regardless of how the board votes, Emmetsburg will be dealing with the repercussions for years.

DD 180 is like a conundrum from ancient Greece. A town faces a terrible monster, but in order to rid itself of the beast, the town must sacrifice something dear to the citizens. But we are not discussing idols or children or livestock; we are discussing the economic life of Emmetsburg.

Councilmember Brian Malm is adamant in his support of the project. "It's for the good of Emmetsburg," he said at the special council meeting Saturday. Malm has a point. If the town wants to expand, economically and physically, it requires room to grown. The improvement plan would allow for agriculture land to be re-zoned for commercial use. The plan would alleviate the flooding along Grand Avenue and allow the residents to live without fear each time a storm rolls in. In theory, the plan gives Emmetsburg its bona fides as prime real estate for individuals looking to set up shop here.

Then there is the issue of age. As Malm and others have pointed out, DD 180 has the oldest tile in the county and it is undersized. Tile that once had the requisite capacity to drain runoff from predictable rain is now sorely outmatched by the vicissitudes of a volatile climate.

Unfortunately, Malm and others who believe the project is for the good of the city i.e., business development are foisted on their own petards. The majority of business owners oppose the project because of the assessment costs. At Saturday's special council meeting, business owners Nancy Wentzel and Heath Householder spoke about the plight of downtown business. "Business is in trouble," said Wentzel. She mentioned closed stores and stores closing. "Look at the four corners," she said, referring to the intersection of Broadway and Main streets. One business is dying; other retail spaces stand empty.

Rather than supporting the project, Householder asked the council to support local businesses. But Wentzel, Householder and other business owners opposed to the project need be wary of their own petards. Wentzel mentioned she has spoken to people who live outside of the area. These individuals, she said, are reluctant to invest in Emmetsburg because of the taxes and because the city is too small. Size and taxes aside, without the project to relieve the periodic flooding, coaxing businesses here would be a hard sell: "Emmetsburg. A great place to do business; remember to bring your waders."

If the board approves the project tonight, that certainly does not mean the issue is decided. At Saturday's council meeting, Roger Chism mentioned the remonstrance that requires the approval of 70 percent of the landowners to stop the project. "We're at 68 percent. If this [project] passes, there will be legal issues," Chism warned.

Emmetsburg wants to grow. Like many rural communities, it has seen its children move away to larger cities where there are jobs and opportunities. Emmetsburg has a lot to offer. Friendly people. An escape from the ills of those big cities with their opportunities. Great schools. An ideal place to raise a family. But coursing below this idyllic landscape is a monster of old that must be slain in order for the town to grow. The usual offerings won't satiate the beast. And while the city fiddles, the monster grows.

After the first council's vote not to endorse the project, Bill Burdick Jr. said, "Well, we kicked the can down the road again." The question is how long can the city afford to keep kicking the can?

 
 
 

 

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