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Water to be restored to Jay Cooke State Park

Construction workers install the foundation of the new sanitation facility at Jay Cooke State Park on Thursday. The facility will have five shower stalls, one men's and one women's restroom, and two family restrooms. Tyler Schank / tschank@duluthnew.com1 / 4
More than 1,600 feet of waterline had to be replaced at Jay Cooke State Park. Damage on the pipes was caused by rocks slamming into them. Tyler Schank / tschank@duluthnews.com2 / 4
Park manager Lisa Angelos and janitor Gary Aho look through damaged water pipes on Wednesday. Tyler Schank / tschank@duluthnews.com3 / 4
In November, a stop gap was placed on a damaged water line pipe at Jay Cooke State Park. The goal of the temporary fix was to determine which pipes were damaged. Tyler Schank / tschank@duluthnews.com4 / 4

The indoor restrooms at Jay Cooke State Park will flush once again.

Repairs to the park's damaged waterline are nearly complete and water could begin flowing in the park as early as next week, park manager Lisa Angelos said.

The park has been without running water since the main waterline connecting the park to Carlton's municipal water system was damaged in late October, leaving park visitors to use a port-a-potty or an outhouse since then.

Repairing the waterline has been a complicated process because the damaged portion of pipe was at the bottom of a narrow canal involved in hydropower generation north of Jay Cooke. To repair the line, the park has coordinated with Minnesota Power regarding the canal's water flow and diver safety, in addition to waiting for good weather conditions, she explained.

"We are making good progress on that — thankfully reached a point where weather conditions have allowed access for divers to the canal," she said.

On Thursday, some of the damaged pipes laid on the ground outside Jay Cooke's maintenance building, with deep gouges and holes visible where rocks rubbed against or punctured the pipe as they shifted underwater.

More than 1,600 feet of the pipe was replaced in the canal, then the new pipe was centered in the canal. Inspecting the damaged line in November, divers put a stop gap on the first hole they found, but then they realized the damage was more extensive than one hole as they continued to inspect the line, Angelos said.

The repairs to the waterline aren't the only project going on at Jay Cooke this year. Construction began this week on the campground's new shower and restroom facility. The outline for the building's foundation was in place on Thursday in the hole in the ground, surrounded by red "danger" tape to keep visitors out.

The park's new campground sanitation building, expected to open for the 2019 camping season, will be 1.7 times larger than the old facility. The building's new configuration will be an upgrade in function and accessibility, which will be user-friendly and include a combined restroom/shower facility for campers who need assistance, Angelos said. The staff has long recognized that the park didn't have a sanitation building that met the standard the park wanted to provide for visitors and it'll be "wonderful" to have a facility of which the staff is proud, she said.

Use of Jay Cooke's campground has declined 8 percent this year, but that's not as much of a decline as Angelos was anticipating. She said the decline in camping was likely due to the unexpected lack of running water. However, the lack of water and showers has drawn some people to the campground this summer who are interested in the "rustic camping" experience, she said.

"We have been surprisingly holding our own here in the camping front. We are still pretty busy. We've been full on weekends," she said.

Angelos applauded Jay Cooke's staffers for how they have handled the changes.

"They are roll-with-the-punches people and they've had to roll with a lot of them since the 2012 flood. They've been doing a fabulous job of maintaining an upbeat attitude and understanding that we're moving the projects along as quickly as we can, but obviously, myself included, we're all going to be extremely happy to see the facilities restored — for ourselves, as well as the visiting public," she said.

The sanitation building is the largest project Jay Cooke has in the works, but she said the park's future projects could include re-roofing the picnic shelter at Oldenburg Point. Jay Cooke's deferred maintenance totals $1.1 million and bridge repairs total $350,000, in addition to trail maintenance costs. Tom Landwehr, commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, highlighted Jay Cooke's maintenance needs at a press conference in March, saying the park's repairs were indicative of the repairs needed across the entire state park system.

DNR facilities are assessed on a rotating basis and the Northland includes more than 80 sites where facilities have been rated in poor or unacceptable condition. With deferred maintenance costs totaling $350 million, the DNR would need $155 million annually for the next 10 years to bring all of its facilities up to an average rating, according to the agency's 10-year capital asset report.

The DNR requested $130 million from the Legislature this year for needed repairs, but it received $30 million, plus $6 million for the "betterment of buildings," said Kent Lokkesmoe, the DNR's director of capital investment.

"That is more than we have gotten in any past years so it's a step in the right direction," Lokkesmoe said.

From the pot of money it receives, the DNR sets aside funding to address facilities that are in the most unacceptable condition, he said. Some of the DNR's biggest projects this year are taking place at the Lanesboro fish hatchery in southeastern Minnesota and the Itasca wastewater lagoon in northwestern Minnesota.

There are also emergency situations, such as Jay Cooke's waterline repair that comes with a price tag of $260,000, that the DNR has to find the funding to address, he said.

"We have always focused on, regardless of the amount of money we get, dealing with the health and safety issues, some accessibility issues, both for our staff and for the visiting public. We make sure that we take care of those things first," he said.