Happy Monday — it’s another snowy, wintry day in the Northland.
Speaking of winter, you may recall that the Aerial Lift Bridge was closed for three days last week — weighed down by ice that built up during our recent snowbliteration (it’s a word today, my friends).
Ships were forced to use the Superior Entry, and the deck was closed on and off to vehicles while crews de-iced the bridge.
It left one reader with a question.
Joe asks: "As a Park Point resident, I've been wondering what is the plan if the Lift Bridge got stuck up, rather than down. What is the plan, process or pieces in place for an extended time with the bridge trapped in the 'up' position?"
I didn’t know the answer to Joe’s question. But, to be honest, I kind of figured this might be common knowledge for you Park Pointers. I thought it might happen from time to time, for whatever reason, and maybe you all had a fridge magnet that said what to do.
(I didn’t really think this through.)
Actually, it almost never happens.
I spoke with Duluth Fire Chief Shawn Krizaj last week, and he assured me that the city has a plan.
First, if the deck was stuck aloft (I’m trying to avoid describing our dear bridge as being “stuck up”), ice probably wouldn’t be to blame, he said. The deck generally isn’t raised long enough for ice to form.
However, there are other reasons why the bridge might be stuck.
“So, maybe the city loses power,” Krizaj said. “We've had wind storms in the past that have essentially wiped out power in various parts of the city.”
In that case, the bridge has a backup generator. But even if that isn’t working, crews can lower the deck by hand — and they have.
The last time was in July 2010, when motorists were stranded for two hours after a lightning strike disrupted power.
In the event of a planned repair, Krizaj said, a fire engine and extra police would be stationed on Park Point, and crews would respond to calls if needed.
For the sake of this column, though, let’s assume that the city would carry out any repairs with as little disruption as possible.
So, what happens if all heck breaks loose? The bridge is stuck aloft. There’s no power. The backup generator is kaput. Something mechanical breaks so that the bridge can’t be lowered by hand. There are few first responders on Park Point. What then?
(This is starting to sound like a hyped-up Hollywood blockbuster.)
“A lot of it would be dependent on the season,” Krizaj said. “If it's a water event” — as in, the canal isn’t frozen solid — “we have our boats, we have the Coast Guard, and we would have to do essentially a water evacuation.”
If there were a severe medical emergency, a patient could be flown by helicopter or from Sky Harbor Airport.
In the winter, there’s another option, Krizaj said.
“If we're talking about safe ice conditions, we could just drive people across,” he said. "We wouldn't probably ever drive a fire truck across the ice, but we have other, smaller vehicles.”
Now, this all assumes an emergency evacuation, rather than the bridge simply being broken. In that case, well …
“You might be somewhat on your own for a while,” Krizaj said, adding that residents might not want to evacuate if they’re not in immediate danger.
“They figure it out,” he said. “Most people have a fairly decent food supply, and they can make it a few days. So, some of (the response) would be based on what the community needs.”
Regardless of the reason, if access to Park Point is cut off, then all options are on the table, Krizaj said. The St. Louis County Sheriff’s Office, which has jurisdiction on the water, and other rescue agencies would join the effort. The city might call in the Red Cross or Salvation Army, for instance.
It’s hard to pin down an exact answer based on sheer speculation, and Krizaj understandably didn’t want to describe every detail of Duluth’s emergency operations plan.
In any case, let’s be thankful that speculation is all we’re dealing with today. Stay warm, dry and safe, Park Point.