Flood waters recede, recovery work continues
Officials and residents across southern Carlton County breathed a collective sigh of relief last week, as floodwaters crested far short of records set four years ago and receded more quickly than predicted.
Carlton County Deputy Assessor Kyle Holmes, whose office has a hotline for residents with flood damage, said the county had inspected 30 properties as of Tuesday morning, and found 10 with damage.
“We’ve got pretty minimal damage estimates at this point, a lot of wet carpets and baseboards,” Holmes said Tuesday, stressing that he didn’t intend to minimize the stress and damage the flood did cause for some. “Still, in terms of homeowners, it was kind of a non-event compared to the 2012 flood. Thank God,” he added quickly.
Moose Lake was probably the hardest hit city in Carlton County. Holmes said eight of the 10 damaged homes assessed by his office are in Moose Lake, where city crews were forced to begin discharging untreated sewage into Moosehead Lake and Moose Horn River from Tuesday night through Wednesday at least.
According to a press release from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, an estimated 450 gallons per minute were released from the wastewater treatment plant during that time period. Barnum also discharged from its stabilization ponds on Tuesday, as permitted, said Craig Weingart, wastewater and stormwater inspector at the Duluth MPCA office.
As strange as it may sound, the sewage discharge was a preventative measure, taken to make sure the city’s wastewater infrastructure wouldn’t be damaged by the flood — as they were in 2012 — and to prevent sewage from backing up into homes during the flash flooding and causing more property damage.
The same press release noted that municipal wastewater is typically at least 97 percent water and 3 percent solids. When excess stormwater is added to the system through leaky pipes, tile systems and sump pumps, it becomes even more diluted, but can still contain high levels of disease-carrying organisms.
Hence, the “Keep Out of Lake” signs posted all over the shoreline in Moose Lake in recent days, signs that won’t be removed for at least a few more days, most likely.
“There are still bacteria and microorganisms that are harmful to human health,” Weingart said. “Just because it’s [mostly] water doesn’t mean it’s clean and safe.”
Moose Lake Administrator Tim Peterson said Tuesday that the water levels had receded substantially, and guessed the city would be testing the water in the lake and the river by Thursday or Friday, after levels go down even more.
“We want to make sure it’s safe when we do open the beach and the lake back up,” he said.
Peterson, who had been at his Moose Lake Administrator job four days when the floodwaters hit, was fairly upbeat in the aftermath of the flash flooding, with good reason.
Agate Days again drew large crowds to the city this weekend, even as the high waters lingered and the lake was closed to swimmers and boaters.
The city’s hockey arena — which was severely flooded in 2012 — escaped flooding after contractor Tim Gobel and his crew built a large dirt berm around the shelter. Moose Lake Brewery and two nearby homes also escaped flooding, Peterson added, thanks to all the sandbags filled by clients at the Minnesota Sex Offender Program and massive blue water-barriers the city found and filled to help keep the lake at bay.
The Moose Lake City Campground was still largely deserted Saturday, but the water had receded enough to reveal several more campsites, although the docks at the campground and the city beach were still submerged.
Campground supervisor Joe Filipiak said he expected the campground to reopen in roughly two weeks, “as long as Mother Nature cooperates and the inspectors get here.”
In the meantime, there will be many repairs and lots of power washing to do, Filipiak added.
When asked if things were back to normal, the answer from Peterson was a definitive “no.”
“We’re doing assessment worksheets for the county and state, and we’ve started more emergency repairs,” he said. “We’ll be doing flood-repair work for a couple months, I expect. But we’re not sandbagging anymore, which is good.”
Other parts of the county were also transitioning from emergency response to planning for the future this week.
County Engineer Mike reported Monday that all county roads are open again. County Road 17 was the final road to open on Saturday.
“The main reason for the delay with 17 was the bridge was under water,” Tardy said. “We had to wait until the water was low enough, to make sure there was no scouring. But we had an underwater inspection Saturday and everything looked OK.”
Just like they did in 2012, when flash floods covered a much larger portion of Carlton County after another heavy rain event, the county transportation department first acted to close roads that were unsafe for travel, then try to get those roads reopened with at least a temporary fix.
Crews worked to examine, repair and close roads from Monday afternoon until 1 a.m. Tuesday, and continued at 7 a.m. Tuesday, working 12-hour days through Wednesday and 10 hours on Thursday.
Tardy didn’t have a specific dollar figure for damages as the Pine Journal went to press this week but he did note the 2012 flood “was obviously quite a bit worse as far as damages.”
Some of the hardest hit roads included portions of County Road 6 that were under water last week, County Road 17 and County Road 13, along with County State Aid Road 8.
Pretty much all of the damages were confined to the southern part of the county, below County Road 4, the county engineer said.
“It’s not going to end this week,” Tardy added. “We have the temporary fixes now, but we’ll start to schedule more permanent fixes soon.”
Holmes said the assessor’s office is still accepting calls, but the hotline to report flood damages had been quiet for about four days as of Tuesday. Unlike in 2012, when about 30 assessors from other counties volunteered to come help complete post-flood assessments, Holmes said he and one other staff assessor have been able to handle all of the damage assessments for the flooding this summer.
So far, he added, the county will likely not qualify for state aid, at least for residents with damage.
“We had to have at least 25 structures with 50 percent damage or higher to reach the state-aid level, and we don’t have anywhere close to that,” he said, adding that the Carlton County Board of Commissioners could still elect to do something to help residents at a future meeting.
“We’d still like to hear from anyone who has damage, or who doesn’t fix the damage going forward,” Holmes added, encouraging people to find the “damage” form on the homepage of the Carlton County website at www.co.carlton.mn.us or by calling 218-384-9145.
ADDITIONAL FLOOD NOTES:
Flood Damaged Heating Systems. Lakes and Pines Community Action Council has funding available to help with qualifyinghomeowners with flood damaged heating systems. Contact Lakes and Pines at 320-679-1800 and press option No. 2 to get more information. Qualifying applicants need to have applications submitted by Friday, Aug. 19, 2016.
Test private drinking water wells affected by floods. After heavy rains and flooding impacted communities in parts of the state, the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) is urging Minnesotans to test their private drinking water wells if the wells may have been impacted by flood waters.
According to MDH Environmental Health Program Manager Chris Elvrum, potential contaminants may exist in flood water. That is why any wells known to have come into contact with flood water should be cleaned out and tested before going back into use.
“Flood water can carry bacteria and other contaminants that may affect the quality of wells if the flood water reaches them,” Elvrum said. “We recommend that if flood water came within 50 feet of a well used to supply drinking water, that the well should be tested before anyone uses it again. If flood water reached a well, that well should not be used for drinking, cooking or brushing teeth until it is cleaned out, disinfected and tested.”
Flood Relief. If you or someone you know has been affected by the flood, call Volunteer Services of Carlton County at 218-879-9238 or 888-419-1235 to request clean-up of your home, information about available resources and/or to register to volunteer with relief efforts. Residents can also email info@ vscci.com or text 218-384-1112.
Be proactive about mental health. Weather events such as high rains and flooding may cause stress, anxiety, sleeping troubles, and other symptoms of distress. If you are experiencing any of these feelings, you can call the Disaster Distress Helpline at 1-800-985-5990 or text TalkWithUs to 66746 to speak with a crisis counselor who understands these issues.