Carlton County officials begin to assess damages from flood of 2012All across Carlton County, officials are worried about infrastructure damages caused by the flood: roads, sewers and more. In Cloquet, the two biggest industries remain closed following the flood.
By: Jana Peterson, Pine Journal
Now that flood waters are receding, Carlton County officials are turning their attention from emergency services to the business of recovery – and tourist control.
“We’ve been fortunate that no one was seriously hurt or died,” Cloquet Police Chief Wade Lamirande said. “But we are encouraging the public to resist the temptation to go into areas where they could fall into water or otherwise be injured.”
He mentioned Spafford and Voyageur’s parks in Cloquet, as well as Jay Cooke State Park.
Carlton County Sheriff Kelly Lake also pointed to Jay Cooke as a potential problem area.
“Obviously people are curious,” she said. “They want to get down and see the park and the bridge [where the road collapsed just below the Thomson dam]. There’s absolutely no vehicular traffic or foot traffic. Conditions are so unsafe; the water is so high and running so fast.”
The city of Thomson is currently accessible only by boat,” one Thomson resident told officials at a meeting Friday afternoon between Carlton County officials, residents, U.S. Sen. Al Franken and U.S. Rep. Chip Cravaack.
Both legislators praised area law enforcement, fire fighters, road crews and other officials for their “boots on the ground” response to the flood. Both also offered their full support in getting the region declared a federal disaster area, a designation that would release funding to help rebuild public infrastructure and possibly private homes and businesses.
“Document, document, document” was the oft repeated litany during the meeting, as representatives from the county, townships and cities each took turns giving short reports on the damages and challenges facing their communities as a result of the flood.
In short, this is what they said:
Wayne Olson, Carlton County Highway Engineer, said that his crews are working to open up roads that were closed by the flooding. A huge number of culverts across the county will need to be replaced or repaired; he put a tentative figure of $800,000 for the culverts alone. A lot of roads are washed out and a few residents are still using four-wheelers to get to homes that are unaccessible by car.
“We had 33 roads closed Wednesday, then 44 on Thursday,” he said. “At one point the only east-west road that was open was Highway 210.”
Carlton County Sheriff Kelly Lake said between 230 and 250 people from Carlton, Thomson (51 homes), Thomson Township and the Fond du Lac Reservation were evacuated from their homes during the flooding.
“About half of those people have been able to go home,” Lake said. “Others are still displaced, staying with family or friends.”
Lake said that both the cities of Carlton and Barnum had “pretty much been under water” during the peak of the flooding.
“And the city of Moose Lake has been hugely impacted,” she added. “The bridge is still closed, which pretty much splits the town in half.”
Areas near Wright and Cromwell are also dealing with road closures and infrastructure issues,” she added.
Many places are dealing with sanitary sewer issues: Moose Lake, Cloquet, Carlton, Thompson, to name a few.
“Our water and sewer lines were attached to that bridge,” said Thomson’s Heather MacDonald, referring to the washed out roadway next to the Highway 210 bridge that now features a thundering river. “So even when the floodwaters recede, we still have no water and sewer.”
She expressed concerns that the residents wouldn’t be allowed to return home without running water and sewer, and wondered if those things could be provided on a temporary basis.
On the Fond du Lac Reservation, Chairwoman Karen Diver said one public building was affected by the flooding, more than 20 percent of the housing stock had been impacted by infiltration, plus 21 roads are closed or have limited access.
“Two of those roads are totally out, including one with a gully that's 45 by 120 feet,” she said, referring to Reservation Road. “But the wells are OK, and we were able to use the Tribal Center as a shelter.
“The biggest thing for us is the roads.”
Mayor Leola Rodd of Carlton said many residents were bailing out basements filled with water and sewage, and praised the city officials, sheriff’s department and firefighters for quick reactions, making sure people were safe and keeping roads closed.
“It was great,” she said. “They did a great job.”
However, she added, she has real concerns about the city’s infrastructure, particularly the sewer system.
Cloquet Mayor Bruce Ahlgren echoed Rodd’s concerns about infrastructure. He also talked about the two mills in Cloquet – Sappi Fine Paper and USG Interiors Inc. – which both closed down because of flooding. Both mills are located on the banks of the St. Louis River.
“We never realized they would flood,” he said. “USG employs 400 people, Sappi more than 700. Neither will be running for awhile. We won’t know what the damage is for some time.”
Franken told the local officials that he was certain that Carlton County would meet the threshold for federal disaster relief, but stressed more than once that public officials, businesses and home owners need to thoroughly photograph and document damages.
“Document, document, document,” he said.