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Austin Snow Pile May Harm The Environment

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By Lindsey Seavert, WCCO-TV

AUSTIN, Minn. (WCCO) – The streets in Austin, Minn., are clear of snow after a record winter, but now area conservationists worry the plowing has created a new problem.

For years the city of Austin has dumped all of the downtown snow in Marcusen Park. However, this year the snow is stacked higher than ever, as high as a two story building.

“It’s actually quite a bit smaller than it was a few days ago,” said Austin Mayor Tom Stiehm, referring to the brief warm up last week. “The concern is that when this melts, if it melts fast, it could add to the flooding problems we’ve had.”

The Cedar River is just steps away from the snow pile. On average the mayor says it floods every four years, although not historically in the spring.

Yet the Cedar River Watershed District worries the salt, sand, and garbage in the snow pile is headed straight for the water and wildlife, and the board says it could be harmful.

The city put in concrete barriers and fencing to prevent the run off from heading into the Cedar River, but Council Member Marian Clennon said that is not the case everywhere.

“I’m concerned about this going downstream,” said Clennon, who says the city’s second dumping site off of Oakland Avenue doesn’t have fencing.

Clennon and the Cedar River watershed board want the snow moved away from the water.

“Usually this whole area is under water when the water comes up,” Clennon said.

Mayor Stiehm is now calling for a study. He says it would cost the city around $100,000 to move the pile.

“Of course with budget constraints and everything…who wants to spend $100,000 for another site if it’s not going to make a difference?” Stiehm said.

For some, the debate isn’t about winter; it’s about the seasons to come.

The Cedar River Watershed District will revisit the issue at the meeting next month. It is considering two possible new areas for the snow pile – either near the airport, or on the site of a former KFC restaurant.

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