Floodwaters recede, but some areas still inaccessible

Terry Roy, resort owner
Resort owner Terry Roy stands on the flooded shore of Big Sandy Lake, which is expected to crest Friday after more than a week of flooding. Roy and his guests can't access the resorts docks, pictured in the background.
MPR Photo/Tom Robertson

Flood waters in the lakes country of north central Minnesota are just beginning to recede following last week's deluge of rainfall.

The U.S. Army Corp of Engineers predicts the water level will likely crest today on Big Sandy Lake in Aitkin County, where dozens of homes were flooded.

Big Sandy Lake resort owner Terry Roy said he's never seen anything like it. Water comes within about a foot of the bar and restaurant that anchors his 100-unit campground. The pristine lakeshore that draws visitors to this spot isn't even accessible.

"That's a fish-cleaning house over there, and it's four-feet underwater. It's at least 300 feet out there to the docks. But you can't even get to them without a boat now," Roy said. "It will take at least a month to get all this water out of here, get it back down to normal level."

About five acres of Roy's Eagle Point Resort are under water. The campers who have stuck around have not been able to fish or swim.

"It would be dangerous to take a boat out there. There's dock pieces floating around out there. There's a pallet board that floated up there this morning," Roy said. "You can see all the little logs, fireplace logs from cabins that's broke loose and floated in here. They're all over out there in that lake."

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The campground is usually full this time of year, Roy said, but he has had numerous cancellations. He estimates business has dropped off more than 20 percent since the rains hit last week.

"We had a bad winter, no snow. Now we're having a bad summer. It's really hard on business. Fourth of July weekend is going to be dead. It's going to hurt," Roy said.

It's not just Big Sandy Lake that has experienced flooding. Creeks, rivers and lakes all over Aitkin County have busted their banks and forced people out of their homes.

Aitkin County Sheriff Scott Turner figures more than 250 homes scattered across the county have been affected by the high water.

"There's just so much water that came down," Turner said. "It can't get out of here fast enough, so as a result, we just have many systems that are backed up and impacting many roads and many people."

Turner says early estimates put the damage in excess of $2 million. That includes about a dozen washouts, most of which have since been repaired.

The worst may be over in the town of Aitkin, where the Mississippi River appears to have crested at 18.6 feet. That's two feet below original projections, but enough to cause big problems in the town of about 2,100 people.

Many homes had water in their basements and a few businesses were surrounded by water, said Aitkin Fire Chief Brian Pisarek. He said the town has been running three huge bilge pumps nonstop to keep water from backing up into the wastewater treatment system.

"We just realized that we have another little seepage through the dike, so we've got another bilge pump coming in, getting ready to go in place to keep the water out of the homes," Pisarek said. "It's an active fight. We're pumping about 14 million gallons a day trying to keep the water back."

It will likely be a week before the water drops far enough so that pumps are no longer needed, Pisarek said.

There does not appear to be great concern for any major flooding downstream. Officials with the National Weather Service in Duluth say the Mississippi is wider and has steeper banks further south. With less recent rainfall in places like Brainerd, St. Cloud and the Twin Cities, the river has more capacity for the extra water headed that way.