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Storm damage tops $3 million, county backs disaster declaration

A gigantic wave slams Brighton Beach in Duluth during the Oct. 27 storm. Bob King / News Tribune

The St. Louis County Board voted unanimously Tuesday to ask the state and federal governments to declare the Duluth waterfront a disaster area, with damage estimates from the Oct. 27 Lake Superior gale now topping $3.5 million.

The county action was a technical but necessary step in applying for state and federal disaster aid, with state Homeland Security and Emergency Management officials set to meet Thursday with local officials to evaluate storm damage.

Jim Foldesi, the county’s public works director, said the city of Duluth has raised its estimate of damage to $2.5 million — from Park Point erosion to destruction of swaths of the Lakewalk to a trashed waterfront at Brighton Beach.

St. Louis County also saw extensive damage to some of its infrastructure along Scenic Highway 61, including many culverts destroyed by wave-whipped rocks and scenic wayside rest areas in danger of crumbling into the lake, Foldesi told county commissioners. The county's bill for lakeside damage is likely more than $450,000.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources reported extensive damage to the McQuade Small Craft Harbor, about $430,000, and the Lake Superior & Mississippi Railroad and the North Shore Scenic Railroad also incurred damage, Foldesi said.

All damage will be included under one disaster aid application, Foldesi said, and the damage totals easily top both state and federal thresholds for aid availability.

Winds gusting to more than 60 mph whipped the lake into a rarely-seen frenzy during the Oct. 27 storm, with already-high water levels contributing to the problem and 20-foot waves spreading damage farther up on shore than most previous storms.

“And we still have the November gales to come,” said Patrick Boyle, the county commissioner representing eastern Duluth.

In recent years, the county applied for disaster aid after the July 2016 windstorm and June 2012 flood that both ravaged the Duluth area.

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