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Duluth to pursue emergency aid from state for storm damage

Damage seen along Duluth's Lake Superior lakefront, seen Oct. 30,, 2017. Bob King / Forum News Service1 / 2
David Montgomery, chief administrative officer with the City of Duluth, and Duluth Mayor Emiliy Larson, talk about accessing the damage to the Lakewalk in the aftermath of last week's storm during a press conference in Lake Place Park on Monday, Oct. 30, 2017. Bob King / Forum News Service2 / 2

DULUTH — A crew of five city staff members spent much of Monday, Oct. 30, driving the shore of Lake Superior from the Great Lakes Aquarium up to the McQuade Safe Harbor to document the damage from Friday's gale.

The assessment will continue by boat Tuesday, with help from the St. Louis County Sheriff's Office.

"There are some areas with real steep drop-offs that we really need to access from the water," explained Jim Benning, Duluth's director of public works and utilities.

City and county officials are documenting the damage from the storm in an attempt to determine if it exceeds $368,000 — a level sufficient to qualify for emergency aid.

Sections of Duluth's Lakewalk has been damaged on previous occasions by waves, but Friday's storm caused extensive destruction, also knocking out access to Brighton Beach, which remains closed.

"Mother Nature won again," Benning said.

During a Monday afternoon press conference, Duluth Mayor Emily Larson expressed confidence the city will qualify for state emergency aid that could cover up to 75 percent of the cost of repairs.

"In the next few days, we will work very hard to clear the asphalt section of the Lakewalk. We will ask residents to stay off of the boardwalk. We don't know what has shifted underneath that yet, but we will work on cleaning up the asphalt section, so that should be fully open for residents very soon," Larson said.

David Montgomery, Duluth's chief administrative officer, said: "This was, as you all know, a huge storm with gigantic waves and a lot of wind."

He said a preliminary examination has revealed "a lot of damage in a lot of key areas, not only to the Lakewalk but to Brighton Beach and to areas behind the DECC." Montgomery said strong east winds also caused a surge in the St. Louis River estuary, damaging docks, seawalls and piers there.

"We ask for everyone's patience and also caution in scrambling around either the riprap or the Lakewalk sections ... because they're not all necessarily stable and we don't anybody getting hurt," he said.

Larson said the city has received numerous calls offering help but urged people to leave repairs to city staff.

"What you can do to help is know that we are doing what we can to get our hands around the situation. We will let you know when we have a tangible ask. The biggest thing you can do is let staff or assessors or the county do their work and be careful yourself if you come down here to take a peek," she said.

Benning said it's not yet clear whether the city will be able to repair the boardwalk this winter, but said the city will restore some sort of uninterrupted pedestrian path.

Benning said road repairs at Brighton also are "iffy" as asphalt plants in the area soon will be closing for the winter.

"There's a lot of work to do. This is going to be a costly repair," Montgomery said.

Water treatment

The wave action from Friday's blow churned up sediments deep into the lake and hobbled the city's water treatment plant, prompting officials to request that people temporarily restrain their water use. On Saturday, the city notified residents that tap water exceeded its turbidity standards, but it offered assurances that that it was safe to consume despite being cloudy.

Benning said Monday the water treatment plant was back to operating within more acceptable parameters, pumping clearer water.

He said the level of turbidity from Friday's storm was probably three or four times worse than what the treatment plant encountered following the 2012 flood.

"In my opinion, the difference is that the wave action stirred up sediments deep within the lake, unlike the flood, where most of the sediment was washed out into the lake," said Benning, noting that the water intake for Duluth's water plant is located about a quarter mile from shore and at a depth of 70 feet.

In addition to assessing storm damage on shore, the city is also working to ascertain other possible problems, such as obstructed pipes.

"Normally the culverts get plugged from the inlet side with debris, but in this case there could be rocks, some smaller, some bigger, that just got shoved into the outlet of a pipe," Benning said.

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