Robert Williams, PE

805 Des Moines Drive

Windom MN 56101


May 1, 2008


Mayor Tom Riordan                  

City Administrator Steve Nasby

Members of City Council

444 9th Street

Windom MN 56101


RE:  Windom Island Park Dam


Dear City Leadership:


I am writing in response to the City Council meeting of April 30, 2008 where the Scope of Work for a Request for Proposals was discussed and acted on.  I am writing this letter on my own behalf only.


Up to now I have not commented on the poor stewardship of public works, or the city engineering decision making process that allowed this dam situation to be created in the first place.  However, engineering ethics require that I must make a comment about one aspect of what occurred at the city council meeting Wednesday.


A letter from Barr Engineering to me last summer stated the following in part:


In order for the City to develop a recommendation on the future of the Des Moines River, it will be important to understand the impacts that any choice will have on the future of the river and riverfront for the public, the City, and the environment. Making a decision without adequate information may result in surprises or unforeseen conditions that could increase project costs or result in outcomes that are different than were expected.”


One of the concerns I asked to be considered in the scope of work was about “…evaluating the geotechnical risks in the Rolling Green neighborhood, including those risks associated with greater long term repeated changes in the groundwater table.  This was basically dismissed out of hand because the council essentially concluded erosion risks apply everywhere and assessing this particular risk might increase costs.  This is a very flawed conclusion.


The risks associated with this item are geotechnical risks which can also be roughly described as ground stability risks.  These risks are not closely related to erosion itself.  The Rolling Green (or west river) area is on a hillside.  Anecdotal evidence indicates this hillside does have a shallow groundwater table, is on a fairly significant slope, and major changes are being proposed for the groundwater regime in the hillside area and the toe of the slope which may undergo greater fluctuations on  a regular, ongoing basis if a dam is removed.  These are all risk factors for causing slope instabilities which have the potential of causing serious property damage and underground utility damage.  Notably, in the hillside environment are also such structures such as Mickelson Manor, Remick Ridge, and the Sogge Home, not just the Rolling Green residents.  These are people you owe the very highest standard of care to protect in this entire process.  Refusing to assess reasoned risks because it costs money is in my professional opinion serving the affected public quite poorly. 


I have professional education that includes a geological engineering degree, among others, but limited experience in this specific field.  A more experienced professional may well quickly dismiss my concerns out of hand and sign their name to it, which I would accept.  Or, more intensive study may turn out to have a major bearing on this matter.  But to decline to even consider such risks before acting on a major project affecting millions of dollars of public and private property and the financial integrity of the city itself is remarkable.  I ask that you consider these decision-making matters in your future actions.






Robert Williams, PE