Duluth mayor: A year after flood, some residents still struggling

Duluth, Minn. — A giant sinkhole along Skyline Parkway near Ninth Avenue East captured this car after heavy rains caused flooding in Duluth, Minn. (Derek Montgomery for MPR)
  1. Listen Duluth Mayor Don Ness speaks with MPR’s Tom Crann

    June 20, 2013

Duluth sustained  more than $60 million worth of damage in the June, 2012 flood.

Duluth Mayor Don Ness provided a status report today to Tom Crann of MPR News’ All Things Considered. Here is an edited transcript of their conversation:

DON NESS: The nature of this storm and the damage that occurred was very localized. If you drove around the city of Duluth today you may not even realize we had such a significant storm and all the damage from last year. But where the damage is, there’s still much work to be done. We’re about halfway through the recovery process. We think it will be a two-year process to address the damage and fully recover as a community.

TOM CRANN: What’s still left to do?

NESS: The bridge projects, the street projects, the culvert projects, those are pretty straight forward. The damage is very clear and what it takes to replace that damaged infrastructure is also clear. What becomes much more difficult is the green infrastructure.  The parks, the trails, the stream beds that act as giant funnels in our neighborhoods that are so damaged. And it’s more difficult to quantify the cost, quantify the type of work that is required to get to that pre-flood condition.  And so that’s really where our focus is at right now, that’s the more difficult part, whether it’s negotiating with FEMA or defining the scope of work that then can go out in contracts. And that will likely be the thing that lingers for years to come.

CRANN: Overall, has the aim been to restore things in Duluth, or to improve them?

NESS: We know now that we’re going to see more frequent and more severe storms in our region.  Much of the infrastructure that was built 100 or 120 years ago is inadequate to handle the volume of water now coming down our hillside, because the development on top of the hill. So whenever possible we’re looking to the future to make sure we’re resilient in being able to handle future storms that may come.

CRANN: When we talked last year after the flood, you were concerned about homeowners who didn’t qualify for or didn’t get state or federal assistance. You had a private fundraising drive set up with the goal of about a million dollars.  Did you reach that goal, and was it enough for homeowners?

NESS:  We did reach that goal … There are still homeowners who’ve fallen through the cracks, who haven’t qualified for the assistance of the state. And those folks are still struggling.  In some cases what we’ve found is homeowners may have had some water, a wet basement, but thought that it was pretty well contained.  Then going through this very long winter freeze-thaw cycle they find cracks in their foundation or secondary damage from the flood. So we’re trying to reach those homeowners and give them the assistance that may not have been evident in the months following the flood.

CRANN: What was the biggest challenge of this past year for you?

NESS: Flood recovery and providing assistance to those residents who have witnessed the damage to their homes or to their neighborhoods has taken our focus away from the day-to-day maintenance of our city. And so there is this secondary impact that has really been a burden on our community, especially given the never-ending winter we have just experienced. Our street repair, our parks repair, are way behind schedule and the community is getting frustrated with that.

CRANN: How has the city changed?

NESS: That’s an interesting question. When a community goes through this type of common experience – and it was such an emotional experience – I think it does bring the community together. There is a sense of commonality. But right now we are mid-narrative. There is a lot of work ahead of us. People are just kind of growing weary of this process. So I think it’s too early to say how our community will have responded in total to this flood.

Ness’ office released this video today:



Before and after photos of flood, recovery

Duluth, northeast Minnesota, still recovering

Homeowners rebuild across region, but their options are limited

The environment took a beating; recovery aims to avoid a repeat

Updraft: Forecasters surpised by deluge

Updraft: Anatomy of a mega flood

The disaster unfolded, moment by moment, on our live blog