The city of Winona Levee Park Committee has become less optimistic about a core feature in conceptual designs for the park: a proposal to move the levee wall in the park and replace part of it with removable floodgates. The committee is not scrapping the idea yet, but one committee member described it as an "impossibility." The group is focusing its discussion on how the plan can be dissected in order to salvage elements that do not require levee wall changes and to make the plan more financially and politically feasible.
Additional conceptual design work will likely be needed before the project can move ahead, Mayor Mark Peterson acknowledged in an interview. The University of Minnesota (U of M) Center for Changing Landscapes designers who were hired to develop the plan probably will not be doing that work, he added. Under contract changes negotiated amid tensions between city leaders and the designers last December, the designers will not make substantial revisions to their plan, according to city staff. "I think their work is largely done," Peterson said.
Originally, designers were to complete a first draft of the plan by mid-September of 2013 for committee feedback, submit a second draft along with funding strategies in October, and, following additional committee feedback, polish and present a final plan in December. Instead, committee members' busy schedules delayed meetings, a designer's family emergency postponed planning, designers' postindustrial rhetoric sparked local backlash and caused tension between designers and city leaders, contract negotiations ensued, and the time frame for actually designing the park shrank from three months to six weeks. The committee's time frame for reviewing plans and providing input was also drastically reduced, and the designers declined to come to Winona to explain the plan to the committee.
Peterson said that the additional conceptual design work that will likely be needed to move forward may be conducted by some committee members: Winona County planners and private architects Owen Warneke and Jacob Nicklay.
Work-around to avoid costly levee changes?
At the meeting, Public Works Director Keith Nelson gave the committee his best guess on engineering costs for replacing part of the levee wall with floodgates: $50,000 to $70,000. Engineering costs for "moving the wall — I have no idea," he said.
Engineering and permitting would likely take four to five years, he said. Construction would be far more expensive. No cost estimates for construction have been provided. Costs for similar, though larger, projects in the region have reached into the millions.
"It's possible; anything with money is possible," Nelson said.
"Sounds uphill," commented committee member Mike Kennedy.
Before going through the newly released full version of the conceptual plan, Committee Chair Frank Pomeroy said the committee will be considering what can be gleaned from the conceptual designs even if the proposed levee wall changes prove unrealistic.
"What do we see in this design concept that we could possibly implement with what we have, or much more minor changes from a design standpoint?" advised Kennedy.
A floating dock and kayak ramp that would provide better access for paddlers and motor boaters while accommodating the larger tour boats, was a committee favorite, and would not require changes to the levee wall. Another positive element that is not necessarily dependent on levee wall changes is a larger open space that could host a variety of events, from ice skating to summertime concerts, committee members commented.
However, some of the proposed elevation changes and the openness of sloping lawns proposed to replace the concrete flood wall cannot be achieved without removing the levee, said Warneke.
As the committee continued flipping through pages of a plan that centers on levee wall changes, Kennedy joked, "If you beat your head against the wall long enough, will it fall down?"
Kennedy continued, "We've got a plan, we know where we can pull some meat out of it, we know where there are some impossibilities, but there's also some dreaming that's got to continue and some input [needed] from the public."
The committee is not trashing the proposed levee wall changes, as committee vice chair and former city manager Eric Sorensen suggested when draft designs were first released. Members will wait to gauge public opinion at an upcoming forum, previously scheduled for this weekend, now postponed till next month. "We'll find out if people want to spend a lot of money" on the park project, Pomeroy explained. He added that the committee has "an obligation to put all the information out there" and let the public decide whether it supports the plan.