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Flood is far from over for Thomson

A contractor started working on washed-out Vermilion Street last week. The bridge over state Highway 210, which had been closed until October, was down to one lane as finishing work took place. The Munger Trail, which served as the emergency access for Carlton ambulances while the bridge was closed, was torn up.

"No, we're not back to what's considered normal," said Ruth Jorgenson, the town clerk.

The gateway town to Jay Cooke State Park, population 160, was besieged by water that spilled over the Thomson Reservoir during the June 19-20 flood. For months afterward, the only auto route across the river to Carlton was County Road 1 to Interstate 35 to state Highway 45.

The Minnesota Department of Transportation quickly made emergency repairs to the Munger, a paved bicycle trail, Jorgenson said, so Thomson residents could bike to Thomson and an ambulance could get through.

The Munger Trail was the escape route a Carlton County Sheriff's deputy told Alan and Linda Johnson to take when he awakened them at midnight on Tuesday the 19th. But the Johnsons, who live on Vermilion Street next to the reservoir, decided to stay. They moved everything off the floor of the house and their adjacent photo studio.

The house and studio were surrounded by water on Wednesday and Thursday, and late on Thursday they were evacuated, along with a neighbor, via Coast Guard helicopter.

By Saturday the Johnsons were back home, but their flood-recovery odyssey has continued to this day.

Much of the flooring in their home had to be torn out, along with the kitchen cabinets. The in-floor heating system and everything on top of the wood floor in the studio had to be replaced.

Alan Johnson estimated they've spent $60,000, doing most of the work themselves. They qualified but turned down a loan from the Small Business Administration because the payments would be more than they could take on, he said. They later qualified for a $23,000 zero-interest, forgivable loan from the state for their house and are awaiting a zero-interest loan for the business.

"It's been a lot of stress trying to get everything done and getting the business back going," Alan Johnson said, then added: "Compared to what happens in a lot of people's lives, it's been a pain, but people have it a lot worse."

One house in Thomson was destroyed, Jorgenson said. The town is working with the state Department of Natural Resources to buy out the property and turn it into green space, but "it's kind of tangled up in a bank situation," she said.

The garage on another property needed to be rebuilt and another homeowner worked through Lutheran Social Service for a loan to renovate her house, Jorgenson said. Another Thomson resident lived in his heavily damaged home through the winter but plans to tear it down and replace it with a modular home.

Jorgenson and her husband were evacuated from their home for a week and had to use a porta-potty for a month, she said. At the same time, she went from being a part-time town clerk to working from 7 in the morning until 10 at night some days.

The workload is still intense. The town took out a one-year, zero-interest $250,000 loan from the League of Minnesota Cities to pay its contractors. The Federal Emergency Management Agency will reimburse the town, but it's Jorgenson's job to wade through the FEMA paperwork.

The flood has added momentum to talks of a possible consolidation of Thomson with Carlton, Jorgenson said, although those talks started before the flood.

"But that brought it to a head," Jorgenson said. "We cannot stand on our own as such a small community."