A downpour like the Wednesday night storm that ripped through the northern suburbs is precisely what south metro officials fear will hit Dakota County's Lebanon Hills Regional Park.
Had the torrential rains hit a little farther south, water could have spilled over from the southeast Eagan park, flooded Cliff Road and drained into the downstream Lakewood Hills neighborhood - which happened during a big storm five years ago.
The area largely has stayed dry this year, but officials don't want to keep taking chances. After years of finger-pointing and debate, municipal and county leaders have agreed on a $3.6 million plan to stop the flooding that has occurred in at least three of the last five years and been an irritation for decades.
Bob Giefer, chairman of the neighborhood's homeowner association, said he's crossing his fingers that the drainage problem will be fixed.
"But I don't expect any magic to happen right away," he said. "This should have been taken care of 20 years ago. It just gets worse. It wrecks the park; it wrecks our neighborhood."
Parts of the 2,000-acre park and the nearby areas flood with storm-water runoff that flows from Lebanon Hills and Eagan, Rosemount and Apple Valley. The county-owned park contributes about 45 percent of the water during a spring melt. The three cities contribute the rest.
"The ponds and lakes within the regional park just fill up. It's like a bathtub, it keeps filling up until it spills over," said Thomas Colbert, Eagan's public works director.
The county's storm-water management plan - available for public review through the end of the month - envisions a system of rain gardens and infiltration ponds to control the run-off. It will connect the park to Eagan's storm sewer system and add water outlets at several lakes, including McDonough Lake.
The plan also calls for the restoration of more than 200 acres of parkland to an oak savannah landscape and the removal of invasive species.
"Part of the plan is to restore an essentially pre-settlement landscape within the park," county parks director Steve Sullivan said.
Nearby suburban development and farming have increased the volume of water to the park, he said.
The project has been entrenched in bureaucracy because the three communities belong to two different watersheds: Vermillion and Gun Club Lake. The county met with all five agencies for much of the year to develop this plan.
"We are at a point where we believe we have consensus on the plan," Sullivan said.
Colbert agreed. "We need it. They need it. Everyone needs to get this done."
Who pays for the drainage system long has been a sticking point, however.
In 1985, Eagan extended its storm sewer system and asked the county to link into it. At the time, the county declined to participate, mainly because the area was far less developed than it is now.
"It's been very difficult to try to determine a formula on who should participate and for how much," Colbert said.
"It's been very difficult to reach any cooperative joint financing."
Instead, the county will ask the state Legislature to cough up the $3.6 million.
"We believe this plan is of state and regional significance," Sullivan said. "Lebanon Hills serves approximately 400,000 visitors every year from the seven-county metropolitan area."