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Flooding conditions improve after projects

Water flows over the top of the walking bridge at Central Park in Superior on Tuesday morning after heavy rains moved through the area. While the park was underwater, damage to homes in the surrounding area largely was alleviated after several storm water projects alleviated bottlenecks downstream in the Faxon Creek watershed. Jed Carlson / jcarlson@superiortelegram.com

With three inches of rain falling Monday into Tuesday on already saturated soil, Central Park was a bit underwater this week.

Faxon Creek in Central Park wasn't the only waterway to overflow its banks on Tuesday, according to Steve Roberts, Environmental Services administrator. He said the rain this week overwhelmed several streams as well as the sewers.

However, with numerous projects to enhance the capacity at the wastewater treatment plant and to improve the efficiency of storm water conveyance systems in the years since the flooding in June 2012, the onslaught of rain didn't render the damage it did more than five years ago.

"I think it's very normal for streams to rise above their banks during heavy rain," Roberts said. He said in addition to Faxon Creek, Newton Creek and the Pokegama River also overflowed their banks and were flowing through the woods. "That's how nature works," Roberts said.

There was no damage to Central Park that was reported as a result of the creek rising, said Linda Cadotte.

Councilor Brent Fennessey, who represents the area, said he remembers when he first joined the Council, he saw Central Park flooded and received a number of calls about the issue.

"Although it appears like it is flooding, two years ago when I got on Council, that's what I thought," Fennessey said. "I got a bunch of calls. I went over there to look at it and thought 'Holy Cow!' This is going to be a reoccurrence of 2012."

However, what he learned was homes were not really in danger.

"The improvements the city has made over the last five years are working," Fennessey said. "The city is not neglecting the problem."

In recent years, the city has completed several projects with the goal of improving the efficiency of water flow during storms with the goal of preventing damage to homes along the Faxon Creek watershed, which were the hardest hit during the flood of 2012.

The goal has been to eliminate bottlenecks within the system, Roberts said. Between Central Park and the bay side of East Second Street, Roberts said, projects have included replacing a corrugated metal pipe with a polymer coated steel line to improve flow capacity and efficiency. Culverts under Marina Drive were replaced after they were destroyed, and was interconnected to the polymer steel line to improve efficiency. The city also replaced a culvert and removed utilities from a 10-foot diameter under Hill Avenue and an old bridge structure where debris could dam up was removed.

Those have helped to minimize damage to people's homes with the most recent rainfall.

Roberts said while the treatment plant received seven calls about basement flooding citywide, only four of those calls were the result of city sewers surcharging — more water was flowing into the system than the sewers have capacity to carry. Two of the homes were in North End, and two were in the Faxon Creek watershed.

While the city's historic basement flooding problems occurred in neighborhoods with combined sanitary and storm water sewer systems, additional projects undertaken in recent years seemed to continue to alleviate those issues, Roberts said.

Three of the reported problems were not related to the city's sewers being overwhelmed, and appeared to be a problem with the private sewer lines, Roberts said.

Fennessey said the problems this week would have been much worse if the city didn't make necessary improvements. He said the primary goal of the projects was to protect homes.

"The city identified the issue with people in the Central Park area, over in Hayes Court ... what I'd really love people to know is the city hasn't neglected the problem," Fennessey said. "They identified the problem and they made some huge, huge improvements and those improvements are working."

But Superior wasn't alone in dealing with issues related to the flooding.

Randy Jones of Poplar reported the village's sanitary system overflowed at its lift station at 4802S County Road P and a basement flooded as a result about 3½ inches of rain out there.

Douglas County highways, mostly in the northern part of the county — Highways C, E, Z, U, M — were also affected Tuesday.

"We have numerous locations that water is flowing over our county highways," Jason Jackman, Douglas County Highway Department commissioner told the Duluth News Tribune. "The ground was already saturated and obviously this isn't helping any."

Duluth News Tribune staff writer Brady Slater contributed to this report.

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