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Barnum turns heartache to hope

The town of Barnum took on a brand new face during last June's catastrophic flooding ­­- a face that looked very much unlike the picturesque little town that epitomized many of the assets of northern Minnesota.

The bridge over the Moose Horn River collapsed under the force of the high water. A blocked culvert upstream backed up the raging river, causing it to overflow its banks and swamping the city park and many yards, basements and even main floors of houses along its banks.

The basement of the city hall and municipal liquor store was flooded, forcing both to move out of their quarters.

The beautifully manicured grounds of the Carlton County Fair were mostly under water, putting the immediate future of the fair and all of the other events slated to be held there last summer in jeopardy. Residents of a downtown senior citizen apartment complex had to be evacuated by a front-end loader, and the County 61 bridge on the edge of town, a main tributary for commuters, was severely damaged and had to be closed down for an extended period of time.

More insidiously, the flood disabled the pump station for Barnum's sewage system, which had to be rerouted into the Moose Horn River for several weeks, sending about 28,000 gallons per day of untreated sewage into the river.

Today, a year later, the community has undergone a significant facelift. City Clerk/Administrator Bernadine Reed said the city has basically replaced everything that was damaged, except for a gazebo in the park that was washed away by flood waters. She said plans are in the works to replace the gazebo - but this time it will be mounted higher and anchored to a cement foundation.

New lift station pumps for the sewage system were ordered and put on line last summer, but installation of the backup generator is still in the works, along with future flood mitigation measures such as mounting the generator higher to avoid any future threat of high water.

The municipal liquor store moved back into its downtown space within a couple of weeks of the flood. The city hall building, which maintained more damage, didn't reopen until February, with city staff relocated to the fire hall in the meantime.

The senior citizen complex repaired one unit at a time, enabling residents to move back in as space was renovated, and the fairgrounds, thanks to a monumental effort by the city, county and hosts of volunteers, was set to rights in time for last August's fair.

Reed said the city is currently working with five individuals whose homes were completely destroyed by the flood waters through the Department of Natural Resources buyback program.

"The city council has approved one already," reported Reed, "and it is set to close on two more on Thursday. Work on the paperwork is still underway for the other two."

She explained that under that program, for folks whose homes were determined to be damaged beyond repair, the homeowners are offered their houses' pre-flood assessed value. The lots then become designated green space within the city for perpetuity.

Though there is still much to be done, Reed said the city has come a long way toward where it wants to be. And with lessons learned along the way, she said Barnum is even better prepared to face any further flood events.