Bayport riverside residents prepare for possible flooding

Flooded baseball fields at Lakeside Park in Bayport on March 31, 2019
The baseball fields at Lakeside Park in Bayport flooded as the St. Croix River neared a projected crest of 88.5 feet in 2019. Preparing for another wet influx, the National Weather Service said there’s a nearly 1 in 3 chance that flooding along the St. Croix this year will be worse than it was in 2001.
Peter Cox | MPR News

Jerome Cherry lives in a condominium just a few feet from the St. Croix River in Bayport, Minn. and like his neighbors, he’s getting ready in case the river leaves its banks. He has already bought storage containers to pack up some of his belongings.

After living in this spot for more than 30 years, he has learned to be prepared.  

Cherry, 84, remembers well the flooding in 2001.

“We had water here. You could not drive down this road,” he said, standing on the access road to his home. “We had to park up here. Walk with waders down. But hopefully it won't get that high again.”

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The National Weather Service said there’s a nearly 1 in 3 chance that flooding along the St. Croix this year will be worse than it was in 2001.

The first floor of Cherry’s condo building was built above previous high-water marks, but not the tuck-under garages. He and his neighbors will soon remove what they can from their garages, leave the doors open and install barriers at the entrances that will allow water in but hopefully keep everything else out.

“We have a fish net that goes around your garage try to keep, I guess, turtles and fish out. That's what they tell me. And debris,” said Tom Holmes, who is new to the riverside neighborhood.  If there is a major flood this spring, it will be his first.

“I've just been taking kind of an hour a day and putting stuff up on racks and bringing stuff upstairs trying to get ready. And you know hope for the best,” he said.

At the Bayport Marina, adjacent to the condos, manager Ellsa Ohmann said she is constantly thinking about the potential for flooding and planning for a worst-cast scenario.

“We already ordered about 1000 sandbags,” she said.

Lined up on the marina’s property, rows of pleasure boats sit wrapped in protective plastic. Ohmann said the boats will likely stay out of the water longer than usual this year.

“We need to sandbag, and then get rid of all the sandbags and clean up afterwards before we can put any boats in the water,” she said. “So, we're telling our boaters to prepare for the worst and you know, same thing, hope for the best.”

Bayport officials estimate about 50 homes could be directly flooded by the river.

 Ellsa Ohmann poses for a portrait
Ellsa Ohmann poses for a portrait on Thursday in Bayport. “We are constantly thinking about flooding,” she said.
Mark Zdechlik | MPR News

Interim City Administrator Matt Kline said there’s not much the city can do beyond providing sandbags and some advice to homeowners. 

“Make sure that you're moving stuff out of your basement, anything that can get affected by flood levels,” said Kline. “They’re encouraged to pre-plan.”

From the vantage point of a city park, Kline points across the frozen river to several upscale homes on a peninsula. The houses may need to be evacuated if flood projections come true. 

“We have to prep for the possibility of complete development closures,” he said. “For example, on Point Road, if the river reaches a certain level, we actually close that road. And in 2001, the residents couldn't stay there anymore because public safety couldn't access them.”

Bayport resident Don Coakley lives across the street from the park. He thinks it’s unlikely that floodwaters could reach his property. Yet he is concerned about any high water.

Matt Kline poses for a portrait
Matt Kline poses for a portrait on Thursday. Bayport interim City Administrator Matt Kline talked about flood preparations at the city’s lakefront park along the St. Croix River.
Mark Zdechlik | MPR News

“A lot of what we're standing on right now is river rock. The water tends to seep up this way,” he said, noting that past seepage has compromised a cement block wall in his basement. He plans to reinforce that wall with braces in hopes of keeping it from shifting further if the water level rises.

What happens with flooding this spring will largely be determined by weather conditions. A slow warm-up would lessen the flood risk.

“The next couple of weeks do look like we have good conditions for a slow melt,” said Kline. “If we get a huge warm-up here after that, you'd be surprised, the river can come up multiple feet in a single day.”

In preparation for that possibility, Kline said county and state prison inmates will soon begin filling thousands of sandbags to help Bayport residents hold back flood waters.