Hit hard by flooding, city of Thomson is on the mendIt’s on the street and in driveways and on front steps where Thomson Mayor Larry St. Germain conducts his business, and there’s been a lot of it in recent weeks as the small town smeared by the overflow of the Thomson Reservoir and St. Louis River fights to get back to normal.
By: Mike Creger, Duluth News Tribune
He has no cell phone. He doesn’t take meetings at City Hall.
Thomson Mayor Larry St. Germain’s desk is, right now, John Isaacson’s front porch.
It’s on the street and in driveways and on front steps where St. Germain conducts his business, and there’s been a lot of it in recent weeks as the small town smeared by the overflow of the Thomson Reservoir and St. Louis River fights to get back to normal.
“Everybody wants to know what’s going on,” St. Germain said on a steamy Thursday afternoon last week. “I just go around and tell people. Or I tell them to call Ruth; she’ll have an answer.”
That’s Ruth Jorgenson, the city clerk who’s holding down City Hall.
St. Germain was on his longtime friend’s porch to watch a construction crew fix Vermillion Street.
On June 20, a river ran down the street as the reservoir filled and spilled into the town of 160 people. Locals assume the water got underneath the street and pushed everything up. It was an impassable mess that only added to the misery of flooded homes and yards for those along the street.
But on Thursday there was progress, as broken pieces of road went away and fresh fill was put in.
“Everybody’s got more smiles,” the mayor said of the slow-but-sure recovery for the town.
Three weeks earlier, tears came to the mayor easily as he visited flooded homes, saw the blown-up street, the road to Carlton battered and ripped away.
“It was devastating,” St. Germain said. “I kept walking away crying.”
He was beaming Thursday as another item got checked off his to-do list.
“Hopefully, they can drive home tonight,” he said of those who live on Vermillion, one of the two main streets through the town. It runs perpendicular to the reservoir, which is where it dead-ends to the north.
“This is my first day to sit and watch,” St. Germain said on Isaacson’s porch as a crew from RJS Construction of Duluth smoothed dirt.
The mayor said he’s surprised at the speed of repair and ecstatic with the cooperation among state and local agencies.
He had warned his constituents early on.
“They asked how long,” he said. “I said, it takes time. Then they asked how it’ll be paid for. I said, for now, let’s get you home” — meaning that fixing the street was a top priority.
A third of the 65 homes in Thomson were damaged by water, Jorgenson said Friday from her desk at City Hall. Three families were still displaced.
While the wait for public and possible private aid from federal and state sources continues, government bodies in Carlton County are deciding how to divide money that has been donated to help flood victims.
St. Germain walked a hundred yards from Isaacson’s place and pointed to the rocks exposed just under the wall of the reservoir. Once covered in asphalt, the boulders are worn smooth, evidence that a river likely once flowed where Vermillion Street is today.
“Maybe. Way before my time,” the 61-year-old lifelong Thomson resident said.
The reservoir and dam were finished in 1906 among the stunning slate and greywacke dalles of the St. Louis River. Today, the water that runs Minnesota Power’s hydroelectric facility here, the largest such system in the state, has receded from the wall. Debris lines the inside wall. St. Germain said there are damages to the reservoir dike that need to be fixed.
Minnesota Power hasn’t set a date on when it will have the plant up and running again. It is assessing the dam and turbines to see what the rush of water might have done. That assessment includes dive teams.
Spokesman Pat Mullen said the main reason the dam can’t produce energy is that the forewall that buffers water between the reservoir and dam has failed, meaning the water going through the turbines can’t be controlled.
While the dam once produced a great percentage of the electricity used in the region, today it accounts for just 2 percent of what Minnesota Power provides, Mullen said.
“And we’re dealing with the same thing as many homeowners: muck,” he said. “Our station is loaded with it.”
The next long-term fix is neighboring Jay Cooke State Park, which will remain closed and inaccessible at least into October. For Thomson, which is mostly a residential town, it means a summer with virtually no outside traffic.
Normal is coming around, St. Germain said, but it will still be awhile.
People are delighted that the Highway 210 bridge has been deemed sound and scheduled work on its repainting and re-decking is being done.
“That really lifted spirits,” City Clerk Jorgenson said.
A move is afoot to have a town picnic next month, an effort to decompress from weeks of dealing with the flood, she said. She’s suggesting the local jug band be used for entertainment.
St. Germain stood on the edge of the bridge on the west end of town. Below him lay the ruins of the roadway to Carlton. Another bright spot could be seen: the repaired water and sewer line that runs under the bridge and connects with systems in Carlton.
Pete Weidman, president and chief operating officer for RJS Construction, stood next to him. Weidman said the people in Thomson, and especially the omnipresent mayor, have become like family.
Indeed, St. Germain said, the destruction “actually brought the community together.”
“You had food for us up at City Hall,” Weidman remembered as an example of the hospitality his crew and other workers received in the midst of chaos.
“My special sloppy Joes,” a proud mayor said. “Three crock pots full.”