Moose Lake Star Gazette - Serving Carlton and Pine Counties Since 1895

By Lois E. Johnson
Moose Lake Star Gazette 

Community pulls together

City's strategic response to rising floodwaters lauded

 

Lois E. Johnson

Properties along Lakeshore Drive in Moose Lake are protected from floodwaters by a large blue bladder laid out in front of a sandbag barrier. Moose Lake firefighters filled the bladder with water last Wednesday as floodwaters continued to rise.

All-day rains on Monday, July 11, following rains the week before, added up to 10 inches or more that fell over the region, resulting in high water in the rivers and lakes that flooded shorelines and seeped into basements.

With two rivers, the Moose Horn and Portage, flowing into Moosehead Lake, the water level in the lake rose quickly, flooding the Moose Lake Campground. On Tuesday morning, campers had to evacuate the campground and move to higher ground.

That higher ground was the parking lots of Moose Lake Community School.

"My niece, Sherri Hackenmueller, had a travel trailer in the campground," said Nancy Timonen. "The EMTs came to help rescue her kayak and pontoon. Somebody donated their time and truck and pulled her camper into the parking lot of the school."

That was just one example of people helping people.

City officials also went into action, armed with lessons learned in the 2012 flood, which had been referred to as a "100-year flood."

The emergency management crew met Monday night and set a list of priorities: secure the pumps for the wastewater treatment system, build a berm around the pumping station with sandbags, secure the city wells, make sure the hospital remains functional, and preserve the property of residents, reported Moose Lake Police Chief Bryce Bogenholm, who had been named the incident commander, at the shortened Moose Lake City Council meeting on Wednesday, July 13.

The wastewater pumps had been flooded and failed in 2012, resulting in backups into basements of homes in the city, causing extensive damage. The basements had to be gutted, and furnaces, water heaters and other equipment and furnishings had to be replaced.

The city stores equipment in a building formerly owned by the Jaycees, located near the campground, and that equipment, such as lawnmowers, was removed before the waters rose. It was later flooded, along with the campground and Little League fields.

Volunteers were asked to assist with moving picnic tables from the lakeshore in the park and campground.

"One-hundred-sixty tables were moved twice," reported Bogenholm. "They hadn't moved them far enough the first time."

The public access and the park were closed on Tuesday. No swimming or boating was allowed on the lake.

The sandbagging operation began Tuesday morning at the parking lot near the depot on Soo Hill. Sandbags were used to build a berm around the lift station near the arena. However, the road to the lift station had also been affected by floodwaters and an alternate route had to be found.

"The culvert in the ditch washed out immediately on Monday," said Tim Peterson, the new city administrator, in an interview on Friday. "Not only did the Public Works crew have to deal with the flooding in the city, they had to put in an access road to get to their shop."

However, a more serious disaster was avoided when a new $2.5 million main lift station had not yet been connected.

"It was scheduled to be piped in on Monday, the day it started raining," said Peterson. "Thankfully, the crew held off because of the rain. They had to reroute the pipes. If that had been opened up, the wastewater would have backed up into everyone's basements."

Peterson explained all of the lift stations in Moose Lake, Moose Lake Township and Windemere Township pump into the main lift station, which, in turn, pumps the wastewater into the sewage settling ponds for treatment.

Peterson went on to explain the old pumps had been repaired after the 2012 flood and worked well throughout the 2016 flood.

There is another lift station on Second Street, near the park, and that pump caused worries.

"We had to turn that pump off so it wouldn't burn out," said Mayor Ted Shaw in a telephone interview Saturday. "We had to let the sewage go into the lake."

Bogenholm reported permission had been granted by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) to allow the city to discharge into the lake.

The lift station pump was back online and the discharge ended by 6 a.m. on Thursday, reported Heidi Kroening of the MPCA at a meeting on Thursday evening.

"We learned in the last flood that other chemicals, such as fertilizers from fields, also wash into the rivers and lakes, resulting in a higher chemical count," said Shaw. "Our lake cleans out fast; there is literally a river that runs through it, only you can't see it."

He explained the lake will be tested for any contaminants in the water but not until after it has returned to pre-flood levels.

Because of the flood and possible contaminants, and because of washouts on the roads and trails, the Moose Lake Area Chamber of Commerce decided to cancel the Moose Lake Triathlon scheduled for Saturday, July 23.

The level of the lake rose on Tuesday and Wednesday, and crested at 8 p.m. Wednesday.

Lt. Governor Tina Smith, Senator Tony Lourey and Representative Mike Sundin toured the flooded areas on Wednesday and spoke about disaster relief funding.

Meanwhile, there were worried residents and one business on the lakeshore.

The sandbag crews alleviated their worries when they set up a berm to hold back the lake water, and then big blue bladders were brought in, laid out in front of the sandbag barrier, and filled with water by Moose Lake firefighters on Wednesday.

The school was also experiencing seepage from the high waters.

"Our sump pump went out the day of the flood," reported Superintendent Robert Indihar in an interview on Thursday. "We had seepage in the boiler room, but that's typical. We brought in two sump pumps that we had, and we got pumps from the new school site and brought the seepage under control. It was a little excitement for an hour or two."

The school had suffered a great deal of damage in the 2012 flood.

Indihar reported the new school did not have any damage from the heavy rains.

"There were no issues at all," he said. "The ground really dries out fairly quickly up there. Our fear was that the clay soil would be an issue but it hasn't been."

A berm of soil was built around the arena to protect it from flooding. The arena had also been flooded in 2012 and suffered extensive damage.

The Flea Market and Farmer's Market on Saturday were cancelled, but, after waters receded, the Farmer's Market went on as scheduled at the pavilion at Generations Park.

Agate Days also continued as planned on Saturday and Sunday.

Peterson credited the city personnel for their hard work and long hours for protecting and restoring the city.

"The police department worked tirelessly," he said. "Several officers were off duty but came in to help block off roads and pitch in any way that they could. The officers and EMTs on their off days were at the campground pulling out campers and moving picnic tables all day.

"The Department of Public Works crew were basically going around the clock to make sure the roads were blocked off. With keeping the lift station operating, they easily saved 1,000 homes from damage.

"Tim Gobel and his crew came Monday and were here the whole time. They didn't leave until Wednesday.

submitted

Through the flooding, Willow River Dam's left earthen side failed and will need repair. Currently the flood gates are fully open. Pictured is the dam during peak flooding on Wednesday, July 13.

"The MSOP (Minnesota Sex Offender Program) and CIP (Challenge Incarceration Program) crews filled 10,000 sandbags, along with the volunteers. The firefighters were working the whole time and placing sandbags, and later the blue bladders. (Sand and sandbags were brought into the perimeter of the MSOP for the clients to fill, it was said.)

"The mayor (Ted Shaw) has been out and about the whole time.

"And Joe (Filipiak) and the campground crew have been around the whole time. Joe and his crew have already power washed the bathhouse at the campground and sanitized it.

"The power company crew has been turning the power off and on, when and where it is safe. They came with a skidsteer and cleaned out the Jaycees building, and they were the ones that went to Forest Lake to pick up the blue bladders.

"Steve Devine-Jelenski, the library director and technology coordinator, has been coordinating the sandbag crew and taking photos of people's homes and the impact that the water has had. He also set up an email account and collected information."

For more information and to report damage, check the city's website at ci-mooselake.mn.us.

 

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