New floodwall keeps Nat'l Guard facility dry at St. Paul airportby Elizabeth Dunbar, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — Nine years ago, Minnesota National Guard troops were scrambling to build a wall out of concrete barriers and sandbags to protect their facility at the downtown St. Paul airport from the rising Mississippi River.
This year, the National Guard pilots and support staff could rest easy -- a new $30 million permanent floodwall that was built would protect them.
The Mississippi has already crested below predictions, and little damage occurred. While the National Guard did move a few helicopters just in case floodwaters rose sharply with little warning, officials could relax more than usual.
"No sandbagging. That was nice," said Lt. Col. Greg Thingvold, who flew over Holman Field on Thursday to see how the floodwall was performing.
"The floodwall wasn't fully tested," he said. "The water was up against the wall, but not very high up."
The Mississippi River in St. Paul crested at 18 1/2 feet, about a foot below what forecasters had originally predicted.
The water level was higher in 2001, when the National Guard had to move most of its equipment just in case the sandbag dike didn't hold. In 1997, the guard intentionally flooded the basement of its building at Holman field both to keep the structure intact and to prevent dirty floodwaters from getting in, Thingvold said.
"It caused us to move out of here and stay out of here for six months," he said.
This year, Harriet Island and Hidden Falls Park were flooded, along with some low-lying roads. At Holman Field, officials closed a couple of the runways because of the high water, but planes and helicopters were still able to fly in and out on remaining runways.
Thingvold said having the floodwall will likely help avoid future inconveniences at the facilities that about 600 National Guard troops use as their base.
"It's a significant emotional event to have to move operations," he said. "It was really nice not to have to put all that manpower and money just to save our little neck of the woods."