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

By Shawn Jansen
Moose Lake Star Gazette 

Flood damage assessments continue across county


Eric Schultz

High floodwaters washed away an earthen wall of the Willow River dam, though the concrete portion of the dam held.

Pine County is still assessing damages from last month's flooding - and taking note of what to do differently next time. According to Emergency Management Coordinator Denise Baran of the Pine County Sheriff's Office in a telephone interview Tuesday, area cities and townships, as well as the county, have been working through the process the state uses to determine eligibility for aid.

After a 6- to 10-inch rainfall July 9-11, the county board declared a local emergency in a special meeting on July 14, the first step in the process to request aid.

The county next conducted its own initial assessment of damage based on information gathered from the Highway Department, assessor's and sheriff's offices. Baran noted the initial assessment took a while due to road closures and high water levels which occurred in the southern portion of the county a week after the rainfall.

This preliminary damage assessment was submitted to the Homeland Security and Emergency Management (HSEM) division of the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, and HSEM determined Pine County surpassed the local threshold of $53,103.75 in public infrastructure damage. That local infrastructure figure is determined by the state and is a per capita damage indicator.

Baran said, "Every township in Pine County has been affected," and she noted damage reports from the cities and townships are still being collected.

Based on the county's preliminary assessment, HSEM advised the county to submit a request to the state for a preliminary damage assessment.

That request was submitted July 22, and Baran said HSEM will schedule a date with the county for a damage assessment. The initial indication was it could take place the week of August 15.

"If the state damage assessment reveals the eligible damages meet or exceed 50 percent of the federal damage indicator, then HSEM will advise the county to submit a request for state assistance to the governor through the HSEM director, Joe Kelly," stated Baran. The governor's declaration will also be based on the damages reported by other entities.

If Gov. Mark Dayton would declare the area a disaster, it would be the fourth disaster declaration for the county since the flooding of 2001 when three bridges were destroyed, said Baran. Declarations were also given for the July 2011 windstorm and the June 2012 flash flood.

Willow River dam

Of particular concern is the Willow River dam. An earthen wall eroded during last month's rainfall and subsequent flooding, but the concrete portion of the dam held. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has closed off the area around the dam for public safety. The reservoir is low, as water continues to flow around the dam through a 50- to 75-foot-wide channel opened by the erosion.

According to DNR Regional Wildlife Manager for Northeastern Minnesota, Dave Ofelt, in a telephone interview, the dam was assessed following the heavy rain event, and Jason Boyle, DNR dam safety engineer, was scheduled to assess the current condition of the dam.

Ofelt said, "There's a lot we don't know yet." He said Boyle will look at the concrete structure for damage and what can be done to stabilize the area in the short term.

As for the long term, "It's going to take some time," said Ofelt. Since the dam failed, Ofelt said, "We can't just put back what was there." Because the spillway capacity was not sufficient, there will be a need for design and money, he explained, especially since storms have been increasing in intensity.

Ofelt emphasized the DNR will not proceed with the work in isolation, but rather, in conjunction with the community.

Following the 2012 flash flood, Ofelt said the dam received a thorough evaluation and was considered to be in good condition.

Ofelt said he caught a glimpse of some records and noted plans for the dam's construction were dated 1939, and surmised it was built sometime after that in the early 1940s by the Department of Conservation in conjunction with the Works Projects Administration. He also noted there were records from additional work in 1969 and 1976.

Roads update

County Engineer Mark LeBrun stated in a phone call that patching still needs to be completed on County Highway 33 north of Askov, County Highway and Road 22 south of Bruno, County Highway 41 west of Willow River, plus numerous minor shoulder washouts will be repaired over the next month.

The Government Road between Sandstone and Hinckley is still washed out and needs to be bid out for repair, LeBrun added. Also, some township roads, especially in the Duxbury area, may still have some washouts mainly on minimum maintenance roads. As people return to their cabins, he may learn of more.


County Assessor Kelly Schroeder stated the county will be debriefing the event and the county's response, but a date has not yet been determined.

"We can put some better plans in place," said LeBrun.

"This is the first year we sandbagged," he said. Sandbags were more readily available for the Pine City area because there was a longer lead time before the water crested in the southern part of the county. Schroeder said the flash flooding that occurred in the northern part of the county left much less time to organize sandbagging there.

LeBrun said locating some sandbags in the Sturgeon Lake, Willow River and Rutledge areas in the future would be one way the county could be more prepared for these events.

An incident was reported in which a man and a number of others worked most of a day to keep water out of the most recently built Habitat for Humanity house on Willow Street in Willow River. The land on which the house was built had been built up 18 inches higher than what was considered a safe level at the time after the June 2012 flood.

It was reported some volunteers went to Moose Lake to procure approximately 150-200 sandbags but were turned away because they were going to use them in Pine County. Moose Lake is in Carlton County.

The house ultimately was ruined due to floodwaters entering the home, it was reported.

When she was made aware of the incident, Schroeder said coordination across county lines would be another factor to discuss when they debriefed the flood and response.


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