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Update: Road will be breached near Milford to alleviate flooding worries

File Photo: Mark Kinseth stands on Lower Gar Road in Milford, Iowa, Thursday. The Army Corps of Engineers is debating whether to destroy the road, following authorization of emergency measures by Iowa Gov. Chet Culver, in order to prevent flooding and property damage. (Kari Lucin/Daily Globe)

3:30 p.m. Friday Update

MILFORD, Iowa -- The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will order the breaching of 230th Avenue between Lower Gar Lake and its Mill Creek outlet after the Little Sioux River crests and begins to go down, possibly Sunday but more likely Monday.

At that point, contractors Soukup Construction of Sioux Falls, S.D., will have 72 hours to complete the project, breaching the road with a 50-foot opening and riprapping it for protection against scouring and erosion.

"We expect that the river levels downstream will increase by .03 to .09 of a foot," said Paul Johnston, Chief of Public Affairs for the Omaha District of the Corps of Engineers.

Waiting a few days would ensure there would be enough room in the river for the small amount of extra water.

11:40 a.m. Friday

MILFORD, Iowa - The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers awarded a contract to Soukup Construction Inc. of Sioux Falls to excavate 230th Avenue near Milford in order to prevent flooding on Lower Gar Lake.

Notice to proceed on the job could be given as soon as Sunday, at which time Soukup would have 72 hours in which to complete the job, said Dan Eckert, County Engineer for Dickinson County, Iowa.

Original Story

MILFORD, Iowa -- A plan to breach a road between Lower Gar Lake and its Mill Creek outlet in order to stave off possible flooding stirred controversy and spurred debate after Iowa Gov. Chet Culver authorized the measure Wednesday.

As of 3 p.m. Thursday, the Army Corps of Engineers was still debating whether to breach 230th Avenue near Milford, and if so, how and when to do it.

"There's a lot of disagreement on whether the conditions merit such drastic action," said Matt Skaret, city administrator of Milford.

Dickinson County officials have been concerned about rising water for some time, said county attorney Lonnie Saunders, and they have sought a permanent solution to its long-term problems.

They consulted with the Department of Natural Resources and the Army Corps of Engineers, and were advised they needed to get some of the pressure off the lakes, or else an above average spring rainfall could cause flooding. The Corps suggested taking a temporary measure to alleviate some of that pressure before flooding could occur.

"None of us have a crystal ball. We don't know what the spring rains are going to bring," Saunders said. "The Board of Supervisors for Dickinson County felt that there was enough of a concern with the water we've already experienced, thanks to the snowmelt, that even just one abnormal rain event could cause problems to the homes around the lake."

Saunders said the county was acting proactively to prevent problems, rather than waiting for problems to occur and dealing with them then.

"The reason we asked the Corps to intervene on an emergency basis is that we have been told that if it got beyond four or five days further down the road, with the way the water was rising, that it might be too late to do anything," Saunders said.

Initially, it looked as if the road would definitely be breached, but Paul Johnston, Chief of Public Affairs for the Omaha District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers stated the plan was by no means set in stone as of Thursday afternoon.

"We were operating initially under an assumption that we have to do it in the next couple of days, but the hydrologists are taking another look at the effort required and they are reevaluating whtat the solution is," Johnston said. "They're still deciding... they're looking at all their options."

The idea behind the breach is to allow the lake to rise to a lesser degree, allowing the timing to correspond with a peak flow on the Little Sioux River, thus preventing flooding upstream and downstream, Johnston said.

"It's actually controversial down here as to whether there is a flood," Skaret said. "... the lake is actually basically at normal levels for this time of year, and there's been a lot of alarm being stirred up by the county about the urgency of the situation and the potential of a flood, but there is a lot of disagreement on whether this drastic action is needed."

Skaret said the ground in the area has already thawed and most of the snow has already melted. He also believed the extra water from the lake going into the already-swollen Little Sioux River more likely to flood.

Some landowners on the lake are concerned, also, about precisely how much water will be allowed out of the lake, which be determined later as weather and conditions change.

"If they get their wishes, my property value will go down," said Mark Kinseth of Milford, who lives on the lake. "Any time that water is down, it gets blue-green algae in it."

The blue-green algae is toxic and while it is present, Kinseth said, no one can swim in or use the lake. He and other lakeshore landowners accept that sometimes blue-green algae will occur, but worry that if the lake is lowered too much, the algae will become much more persistent and cause land values to drop.

"I think it's a waste of money," said Denny Goetzinger of Spirit Lake, Iowa.

Federal funds will pay for the breach of the road, but Dickinson County will be responsible for the cost of repairing it -- likely between $15,000 and $20,000.

The length of time the road would be breached is also unknown, because it would depend on how much it rains, but most likely the breach would last 30 to 60 days, Saunders said.

Milford and Dickinson County share jurisdiction of the road, but Milford did not sign on to the letter to Gov. Culver requesting an emergency disaster proclamation.

"Right now, the flooding that we're having in the area is typical springtime flooding in the immediate Milford area. There isn't anything that's abnormal," Skaret said, noting that other cisuch as Spencer, Iowa, have experienced flooding. "Milford itself is up on high ground... I guess 'If we flood, then we're going to have to start building an ark' is kind of the mentality."

In 1993, when the area flooded, a lot of tourism dollars were lost, Saunders said, and the county did not want to take the chance of that occurring again.

Dickinson County has also purchased sandbags to hold on standby in case flooding occurs again in its residential and resort areas.

"We're working toward a more permanent solution so we don't have to take more emergency measures in the future," Saunders said, referring to a plan to add additional box culverts designed to drain off water from the lake only when levels were high. "But that permanent solution is going to take more time."