Getting the gully together: City to fix Buffalo Hills ravine

Brainerd City Council members accepted an engineering bid Monday, May 15, to begin work on repairing a gully in south Brainerd.

Karen Schirmer stands in the ravine behind her home on Ridge Court in Brainerd Thursday, June 24, 2021.
Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

BRAINERD — Work will soon begin to determine how to fix a gully in the southern part of Brainerd.

The large ravine — measuring roughly 40 feet deep and 40 feet wide — runs north of Buffalo Hills Lane, to the east of Ridge Drive. Residents in the area said they have lost trees and portions of their yards because of the gorge and worry about their homes in the future.

Brainerd City Council members denied a bid for engineering services on a gully remediation project in March, with the majority of the council having concerns about who was responsible and who should pay for the repairs.

With some wanting to assess property owners for the cost, council members agreed to seek a legal opinion before moving forward with the project.

After consultations with City Attorney Joe Langel, council members moved ahead with engineering services during their meeting Monday, May 15.


Council member Mike O’Day, chair of the council’s Safety and Public Works Committee, recapped the communications with Langel, saying the city changed the land and drainage system enough over the years to arguably consider the gully a liability to the city. This means residents will not be assessed for the project.

The engineering contract with Short Elliott Hendrickson costs $64,130. Council members unanimously accepted the bid Monday, after O’Day and Tiffany Stenglein were the only votes in favor in March.

The low bid

Part of the issue for some council members also lay in the way bids were obtained.

City Engineer/Public Works Director Jessie Dehn said when he first solicited bids, he only contacted one firm — Bolton and Menk — for the job, as other local firms were already engaged in large projects for the city. He said he did not want to interrupt those projects and desired to give another local firm the business.

Brainerd City Council members discuss matters during their meeting Monday, May 15, 2023.
Theresa Bourke / Brainerd Dispatch

The bid from Bolton and Menk came in at $75,932, but council members later asked to see more bids to ensure they were getting the best price.

Dehn came back with bids from WSB and SEH, both coming in cheaper than Bolton and Menk at $71,972 and $64,130, respectively. Bolton and Menk did not rebid the project.

In March, council members Jeff Czeczok and Gabe Johnson expressed hesitancy in accepting a lower bid from SEH when the firm was able to see Bolton and Menk’s bid ahead of time, though they both agreed to the SEH bid Monday.

Funding the project

The total project to fix the gully is preliminarily estimated at $1,219,000.


Funds will come from a combination of a Clean Water Fund grant and the city’s storm water utility funds. There could also be some funds coming from the Soil and Water Conservation District for the construction phase of the project, which is slated to happen in 2024, though those contributions will not be determined until the project has been bid out and priced.

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The grant, coming from the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources, will contribute $975,000 to stabilize the gully. The work will happen by installing an estimated 1,300 linear feet of reinforced concrete pipes within the gully channel and creating a deposition pool with erosion control fabric and native seed mixes.

The grant requires a minimum 25% match of cash or in-kind contributions. City officials plan to use the storm water utility fund to cover costs beyond the grant or any funding from the Soil and Water Conservation District.

An expanding gully

Back in 2021 , former City Engineer Paul Sandy told the council city staff had been aware of the issue for years, though the erosion speed recently quickened.

The gully starts near the intersection of Carol and Buffalo Hills lanes and dates back to at least 1939, when it can be seen from aerial photographs taken by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. As more streets were constructed and development occurred in the area, the impervious surface coverage increased, and along with it came an increase in the amount of runoff diverted to that channel.

The development also resulted in a decrease of the amount of time stormwater takes to get from Point A to Point B, which increases the likelihood that water channelizes and erodes certain soil types. This occurrence, combined with the sandy soils seen throughout Brainerd, created the gully that exists today.

Not only will the remediation project stop the gully from creeping up on nearby residents, it will also help the city with state permitting.

Stormwater in Brainerd is regulated by the city’s municipal separate storm sewer system, or MS4, permit from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. The city is responsible for all stormwater within its system and infrastructure. No matter where the stormwater originates, once it enters Brainerd’s infrastructure and outlet system, it becomes the city’s issue.


The city’s MS4 permit will be reissued in 2026 for the next five years, and at that time the city will be responsible for the total maximum daily load of sediment it can discharge into the Mississippi River. The river is already impaired for total suspended solids, which means it is having a hard time supporting fish and other aquatic life due to the amount of sediment in the water. The gully remediation project will reduce the sediment going into the river, and the city will be able to take credit for that occurrence, satisfying permit requirements.

The project is also important for the health of Little Buffalo Creek, as large sediment deposits can be seen in the creek from Rotary Park.

THERESA BOURKE may be reached at or 218-855-5860. Follow her on Twitter at .

Theresa Bourke started working at the Dispatch in July 2018, covering Brainerd city government and area education, including Brainerd Public Schools and Central Lakes College.
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