Lake County under emergencyA state of emergency was officially declared and Lake County is facing an estimated $7 million in damages following the torrential rains that created unprecedented flooding along the North Shore last week.
By: Tom Olsen, Lake County News-Chronicle
A state of emergency was officially declared and Lake County is facing an estimated $7 million in damages following the torrential rains that created unprecedented flooding along the North Shore last week.
County roads remain impassable and work is still being done to make sure the Knife River bridge on the Highway 61 Expressway is safe. Traffic is being detoured through Knife River.
“This is the one natural disaster I thought we’d never have to worry about,” Lake County Emergency Management Director B.J. Kohlstedt said Thursday, noting that the county has dealt with tornadoes, wildfires and ice storms in recent years.
Sinkholes, collapsed culverts and overflowed ditches have affected approximately 25 percent of the county road system and 50 percent of forestry roads.
The county has used every sign, cone and barrier it has to close roads, Lake County Highway Engineer Al Goodman said.
As of early this week the county reported that Alger Grade, Big Rock Road, South Airport Road and Clark Road were all closed in certain parts. Other roads are damaged but passable.
The county board declared a state of emergency Thursday morning and the joined the effort to seek a presidential declaration of a major disaster, which would entitle the region to federal aid.
“There was no loss of life and no serious injury. Businesses are all open and tourists are still coming as planned,” County Administrator Matt Huddleston said. “There are a lot of people we need to commend for this effort.”
Gov. Mark Dayton, who will likely decide whether or not to seek federal aid, was in Duluth Thursday morning to assess the damage and meet with local politicians, including Lake County Board Chairman Rich Sve, who brought along photographs of the county’s damage.
Goodman estimates it should take about six weeks to fully repair the county’s roads, while traffic over two bridges, one on the Clark Road bridge over Silver Creek and the other a bridge on County Highway 124, will be detoured for approximately a year to repair damages.
Goodman said there are many driveways on county roads that are damaged and the county will try to assist those who need repairs. It will prioritize fixing main roadways first, though.
Residents are encouraged to document damage in right-of-ways with photographs and keep records of repair costs since funding may be available in the future to offset costs. The county stressed that doing such work comes with the risk that there will be no payback.
The Highway 61 expressway over the Knife River remains closed until a structural assessment can be completed, but county officials are optimistic that the bridge will reopen soon. The Marina Road bridge over the river near the Scenic Highway in Knife River also remains closed. The main bridge there is open, meaning drivers on the expressway can use it to get around the closed bridges.
The Knife River area was perhaps the hardest hit area in Lake County. Crews continue to clean up fallen trees along the roadway and ditches that flooded near the river.
The only evacuations needed were in Knife River, where residents of four houses along the river had to leave, according to Sheriff Carey Johnson. One couple declined to leave their home.
“The response (to emergency calls and road damages) went very well,” Johnson said. “We had great response from deputies and emergency workers, but also from other people, from residents who helped out.”
Kohlstedt said the American Red Cross contacted her, but the county has not needed its services, due in large part to the fact that there were no power outages and sump pumps were able to keep houses largely free of water.
A broken communications line left much of Lake County without 911 service, internet access, telephone and cell coverage from Tuesday night until Wednesday afternoon, making it tougher for emergency workers to respond to issues.
“Communication is absolutely necessary in any emergency, Kohlstedt said. “We are very lucky no one was killed or seriously injured.”
The county’s new digital emergency alert system worked flawlessly and emergency responders were able to comment through ham radio, Kohlstedt said.
County Commissioner Paul Bergman requested that Frontier Communications meet with the board soon to discuss how to prevent the loss of communications in the event of another broken line.
A conduit holding the line was battered at the Knife River bridge on the expressway, creating the outage, Johnson said.
Kohlstedt and Bergman said the county’s burgeoning fiber project, which is currently stalled by a telephone pole ownership dispute, should prevent complete losses of communication.
A car rests on an exposed culvert Wednesday at Clark Road and Silver Creek north of Two Harbors where the road washed out. East Alger Grade in the area also washed out as the creek swelled Tuesday night. Lake County officials said Thursday that at least a quarter of county roads were damaged by high water this week. Damage was estimated at $7 million. The driver of the car was hospitalized and is recovering from a torn aorta that required surgery, a friend said. He had been traveling to work Wednesday morning. Photo courtesy Carl Neer