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Some flood-damaged roads are close to reopening

By Steve Kuchera, Forum Communications

Two months after floods closed several roads in the Northland, some are close to reopening.

For starters, visitors should be able to drive into Jay Cooke State Park by the end of October.

But they will only be able to reach the park from the west, as it may be more than a year before flood-damaged Minnesota Highway 210 between the park’s headquarters and Duluth’s Fond du Lac neighborhood reopens.

“We ask people to be patient while we try to put it back together,” said Jim Sorenson, project supervisor for the Minnesota Department of Transportation. “It is quite a challenge for us. We have never had anything like this. … I think everyone will be pretty happy once we get to the park.”

Separately, St. Louis County has developed a plan to reopen a flood-damaged section of Haines Road next year. Earlier, there was a possibility that the road wouldn’t reopen until 2015.

June’s rainfall and flooding damaged roads in the region, but none more so than Highway 210 in and near Jay Cooke, where the road is built on hills of unstable clay and silt. Slides and washouts severed the highway in several places. At the St. Louis River, the flood washed out a nine-foot-diameter overflow pipe near the Thomson Bridge. MnDOT will replace the culvert with a bridge approximately 100 feet long. The new bridge should open in late-October.

“I think they are going to start construction this week,” Sorenson said.

Floodwaters also overwhelmed a six-foot-diameter culvert beneath Highway 210 between Thomson and the Jay Cooke’s headquarters, leaving a 35-foot-deep, 100-foot-long gap in the highway. To help plug the gap, the state ordered a $310,000 custom-made box culvert. The 250-feet-long, 12-feet-wide, 8-feet-high culvert will arrive in about 50 sections and will be assembled on site.

“It hasn’t come yet, but we have a contractor on board,” Sorenson said. “We hope to have that open by the third week in October.”

The cost for materials and labor for this one washout will total slightly less than $1 million.

Other parts of 210

Another major section of Highway 210 washed out between the park headquarters and Oldenburg Point after an earthen embankment on Forbay Lake – part of Minnesota Power’s reservoir/power generation system – gave way. When the lake’s waters hit Highway 210, they tore through the road, leaving a 50-foot-deep, 250-foot-wide gap. MnDOT engineers and consultants are working to develop a temporary solution for reopening the road. A permanent solution has to wait until Minnesota Power decides how it will repair Forbay Lake, Sorenson said.

That will take time, said Amy Rutledge, spokeswoman for Minnesota Power’s parent company, Allete.

“We are working with FERC – the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission – on the design and the restoration of” Forbay Lake, she said.

In addition, the two are doing an analysis of Minnesota Power’s entire hydro-electrical system, which includes 16 reservoirs and 11 hydroelectricity stations. The Thomson Hydro Station, the system’s largest, hasn’t operated since Forbay Lake failed. Minnesota Power and FERC are examining options on how to get Thomson at least partly operating again while looking for a long-term solution.

“This is a lengthy process,” Rutledge said. “We have never gone through it before.”

Farther east, between Carlton County Highway 151 and the Thomson Hydro Station, the state replaced a seven-foot culvert that failed – causing a 25-feet-deep, 100-feet-wide washout – with a 12-foot culvert so Minnesota Power workers can reach the Thomson Hydro Station. The road remains closed to the public.

“We are going to start soil nailing there to try to establish the road back to two full lanes,” Sorenson said.

In soil nailing, the ground near and beneath roads is stabilized by driving 1.5-inch-diameter, 20-foot-long steel pipes or nails into the soil of roadway slopes. The nails are then secured with a chain link fence that lays flat on the ground, which is then sprayed with concrete to hold the soil in place. MnDOT has used the process since 2007. After June’s flooding, the department hired Soil Nail Launcher Inc. under an emergency contract to stabilize areas along Highway 210 that are prone to mud slides.

The state has also partly cleared 210 between Fond du Lac and the Fond du Lac Hydro Station to give Minnesota Power workers access to the station. The section of road is also off limit to the public.

“It is single lane with piles of debris,” Sorenson said. MnDOT hasn’t yet extensively evaluated that section of highway to determine what is needed to re-open the road to the public.

Procter artery still closed

Highway 210 isn’t the only highway that hasn’t reopened. U.S. Highway 2 remains closed between Interstate 35 and Boundary Avenue in Proctor. It was closed after rushing water overwhelmed a box culvert and undermined the road. The section of highway should reopen by Nov. 1.

The project “is going out to bid this week,” Sorenson said. “We expect construction to begin very shortly.”

St. Louis County is also making progress reopening closed roads:

— Becks Road, which was closed for work before June’s flooding, will reopen before the end of September, said Brian Boder, assistant county highway engineer with the Public Works Department.

— Jean Duluth Road, which closed at the Lester River after a large culvert failed during June’s flooding, will likely reopen by the beginning of 2014.

— The biggest news is that Haines Road, which is closed between Skyline Parkway and the railroad crossing at Eighth Street because of washouts, could reopen before 2014. Earlier this summer it was considered possible the road could remain closed into 2014 or even 2015 as a previously planned reconstruction of Haines Road was done in phases.

“The timelines have changed; we have accelerated several smaller projects that will allow us to expedite construction for 2013,” Boder said. “From the railroad tracks all the way up to Morris, Thomas would be completed by 2014.”