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Steve Kuchera, Forum News Service, Published June 15 2013

Northeastern Minnesota roads continue to show flood’s impact 1 year later

DULUTH, Minn. – The impact of last year’s historic storm on northeastern Minnesota’s roads will be felt for years to come. A number of bridges are slated to be replaced. Some roads remained closed. And at least one may never entirely reopen.

“Highway 210 is a dilemma,” said Duane Hill, District 1 engineer for the Minnesota Department of Transportation.

The flooding closed 26 state highways. Most reopened within days. But Minnesota Highway 210 between Thomson and Duluth’s Fond du Lac neighborhood has not.

Built on unstable clay soils, large parts of the road washed away or slid down hillsides. To reopen the stretch between Thomson and Jay Cooke State Park’s headquarters last year, the state installed a custom-built box culvert at a 35-foot-deep, 100-foot-long washout.

This year, the state will reopen it between the park’s headquarters and Oldenburg Point, a section where floodwaters tore a 50-foot-deep, 250-foot-wide gap through the road after an earthen embankment gave way on Forebay Lake, part of Minnesota Power’s reservoir/power generation system. Work has begun on a $2.9 million project that will build a new bridge over the gap and repair the road.

Last year, MnDOT did emergency work on two sections of the road to give Minnesota Power employees access to the Thomson and Fond du Lac hydro stations. The highway should reopen to Oldenburg Point this fall. But its future between there and Fond du Lac is uncertain. In the coming months, the state will seek public comment on whether the road should be repaired and reopened, or perhaps converted to a different purpose, such as a multi-use trail. Either way, Hill said, dealing with slides on the clay slopes will remain a long-term issue.

Minnesota Power

The collapse of the Forebay Lake embankment and other flood damage not only washed away part of Highway 210, it took Minnesota’s largest hydroelectric generation plant out of service.

Forebay Lake channeled water to the 72-megawatt Thomson generator plant on the St. Louis River. In addition, flooding at the plant damaged its turbines and other equipment. Damage reached an estimated

$60 million.

The plant remains out of service until repairs are completed. Federal regulators are reviewing Minnesota Power’s plans for rebuilding the Forebay. The new design would be better able to withstand flooding like last year’s, Minnesota Power spokeswoman Amy Rutledge said. Allete expects to have partial use of the facility by the end of the year, and full use by early next year.

City of Duluth

The flooding devastated many of Duluth’s streets, Duluth Director of Public Works Jim Benning said. But repairs have gone quite smoothly.

“You would have to look hard to find visible damage” on many streets, he said.

But some damage, and work, remains.

Work has either begun or will shortly begin on repairing 45th Avenue East and Hawthorn Street, which remains closed. The project to repair the Keene Creek Bridge on 63rd Avenue West is expected to go out for bid within a month. Bridge work along Seven Bridges Road – which is closed to car traffic – will likely have to wait until next year.

St. Louis County

The floods caused an estimated $37 million in damage to the county’s roads and bridges. More than 1,400 miles of roads were affected, 94 roads closed, four bridges destroyed and 70 others closed for repairs.

A lot of repair work remains, St. Louis County Public Works Director/

Highway Engineer Jim Foldesi said.

The biggest current flood-related county project is a $12 million reconstruction of Haines Road in Duluth. Officially known as CSAH 91, Haines sustained heavy runoff damage, forcing the closure of a 2¼-mile segment from 40th Avenue West to near Mary Lane. The rebuilding project includes blasting to remove 65,000 cubic yards of rock.

In addition, the county is in the process of letting bids to replace 15 flood-damaged bridges this year and next. The new bridges will have to meet modern state standards for handling water flow, which could reduce future flood damage. But there is no guarantee that another historic flood wouldn’t damage them.

“We had a 500-plus year event,” Foldesi said.

“If you were to design to that, society would be broke.”

The projects come before the County Board within the next few weeks. Foldesi expressed concern that the number of flood-related projects remaining in the region might drive up costs.

“Due to the number of projects between us and Carlton County and the city of Duluth, I think we are going to start to strain the contractors’ abilities to complete all these projects,” he said.