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Crow Wing County Board approves funding for Black Bear/Miller Lake levee costs

Last spring and summer, two flooding events tested the Black Bear/Miller Lake Levee.

Tuesday, Crow Wing County commissioners approved spending to cover costs not reimbursed with the June disaster declaration.

Crow Wing County Administrator Tim Houle said the rains in May filled the bathtub and by the time of the June flooding the water had no where to go. The June flooding was the part of the downpour event that caused so much damage in Duluth. In Crow Wing County, damages were reported in the Brainerd area and points east. About 25 homes were in danger of flooding in the Black Bear/Miller Lake area.

The county reported the June flood resulted in expenses of $72,544, which will be reimbursed through the state and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

Tuesday, the board agreed to reimburse money the highway department spent from its funds by using $14,279 from the general fund to cover those costs. The highway department typically absorbs costs of flood damage to roads and bridges but the levee is not normally part of the mix.

The levee association also asked for help from the county. The levee was constructed in 1987. Ownership of the levee was turned over to the county from the Army Corps of Engineers.

The earthen dam on a stream off the Mississippi River was designed to control localized flooding from the Black Bear/Miller Lakes watershed in Wolford Township.

Rob Hall, assistant highway engineer, told the board the levy needs permanent repairs and it’s up in the air whether FEMA or the Corps of Engineers will help with those costs.

Two years ago, the county and the residents came up with a plan to increase what property owners were paying from $7 to $16 per parcel in order to build up a fund for possible levee repairs and future recertification costs. In 2011, FEMA, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, required a recertification of levees across the country. For the recertification, the county and the Black Bear/Miller Lake Conservancy Board each paid about $22,000 for the recertification costs.

Larry Nadeau represented the levee association before the board. About 104 parcels in the Black Bear and Miller Lake area by Trommald are assessed the $16 per parcel for a total of $1,664. Annual levee maintenance costs range from $500 to $1,000. Nadeau said there are about 70 property owners, as some have more than one parcel.

Nadeau said the goal was to have a $15,000 balance in 10 years, but right now the fund has $4,646 in it. The price tag from the flooding was $17,691. Nadeau said at the current rate it would take 15 to 17 years to recover from this flood event.

During the high water last spring and summer, pumps were running 24 hours a day to move water in a controlled fashion from one side of the levee to the Mississippi River. Nadeau said the work during the flood minimized damage that could have been more serious to the south.

“We also think this goes well beyond the local property owners,” Nadeau said.

Commissioner Doug Houge said the flood was a setback to the plan to build a fund balance for future costs. The association typically handles levee maintenance, but the recertification costs were not expected and the flood arrived two years later before adequate funds were collected.

Houle said the county’s options were bank roll the payment and draw a repayment from the homeowners or pay the full amount because it is the county’s levee and continue to build the fund from assessments.

Nadeau said the assessment to landowners could be adjusted but he asked the board to consider in the past 25 plus years, the area never had an experience like last year. A public hearing would be required to increase the property assessment.

Nadeau said the damages could have been much worse. He said the real story was one of successful communication and relationships, which started being formed during the recertification process. The board unanimously approved the paying the full amount. Commissioner Paul Thiede was absent.

“This was a success story of local property owners and volunteers working with staff to minimize damage,” Nadeau told the board. “Your people did a fantastic job or we would be talking about bigger figures.”

RENEE RICHARDSON, senior reporter, may be reached at 855-5852 or Follow on Twitter at

Renee Richardson
Richardson is a Pacelli High School graduate from Austin, Minn., who earned an applied science degree from the University of Minnesota, Waseca, with an emphasis in horse management. She worked extensively in the resort industry. She received an associate’s degree from Central Lakes College, where she was editor of the Westbank Journal student newspaper, as well as a summer intern at the Dispatch. She graduated from St. Cloud State University summa cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in mass communications and interned at the St. Cloud Times covering business while attending SCSU. She's been with the Brainerd Dispatch since 1996.
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