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Duluth to seek state aid for Lake Superior storm damage

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Pedestrians navigate debris from storm damage on the road at Brighton Beach in Duluth Saturday morning. Large waves from Friday's storm washed large areas of the road into the park. Clint Austin / Forum News Service2 / 2

DULUTH, Minn.—After extensive assessment, Duluth city staff members have determined damage from Friday's storm caused enough damage to warrant an application for emergency aid from the state of Minnesota.

Erik Birkeland, Duluth's property and facilities manager, was part of a team that surveyed the length of the Lake Superior shore. In addition to encountering blasted-out sections of boardwalk from the canal to Endion Station, they also found debris — including rocks, riprap, trees and trash — tossed up onto park properties by the lake's waves.

"But then the other thing that's probably less talked about is the bank erosion that we saw all the way up the shore. There were a number of areas where the banks were really destabilized, and that's an area of concern that I think we're going to have to take a deeper look at," Birkeland said.

Some storm sewers also were compromised, said Todd Carlson, a program coordinator for Duluth's engineering department .

"The bulk of it is in fair condition. We do have some cleaning of the pipes to do and then some rock removal around the outlets to just allow for a free flow as we move into winter and ultimately spring," Carlson said.

Staff examined the infrastructure first from land and then by boat, but some of the outlets in areas of seawall are located underwater and will require further assessment, Carlson said.

"Most of it's functional but there is some rock and stuff that's been pushed up into those pipes. We probably have less than a dozen or so that are 50 to 80 percent plugged that we're going to have to go in and open up, just to get more capacity back in there," he said.

What further damage may have been done to pipes has yet to be determined.

Any level of total damage in excess of $368,000 would qualify Duluth to seek emergency aid, and Jim Benning, the city's director of public works and utilities, said the necessary paperwork has been forwarded to St. Louis County, which in turn will submit a request to the state. If aid is made available, it could cover up to 75 percent of the cost.

"Whether or not we get the aid, like Mayor (Emily) Larson said, we've got to fix this," Benning said. "We can't not have a Lakewalk in Duluth."

By the end of the week, Benning and his crew hope to reopen Brighton Beach to traffic, using excess millings from road construction on Scenic Highway 61. Meanwhile, city crews are continuing to work to clear at least the asphalt portion of the Lakewalk. City officials asked that people not go on the damaged boardwalk.

Birkeland said the damage assessment gave him confidence the city can make a strong case for state funding.

"We have a broad sense that it's easily over the threshold for the emergency declaration, but what we're working on now is trying to quantify the cost of the cleanup efforts related to a short-term fix and then potentially working with an engineering firm to help us quantify what the long-term repairs are going to cost," he said.

Birkeland noted that high water levels likely exacerbated the storm's damage.

"I think the most stunning aspect about this thing was the size of rock and benches and things that were just thrown up like they were nothing by this water. It just goes to show how powerful the lake can be," he said.