Northeastern Minnesota bracing for record flooding

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The Rainy River Basin is experiencing historic flooding, from the headwaters up to Rainy Lake.

Last week, docks all across Lake Vermilion were damaged by ice being moved by the high water levels.

“It’s just super crazy,” said Manik Docks and Recreation Owner Michelle Manik. “The water is over all the dock frames and there’s damage everywhere from the ice. It’s damaged docks, boat houses, you name it. It’s just crazy, and then there’s floating objects everywhere.”

This has kept Manik’s dock business busy with over 25 people needing repairs. Keeping up with the many repairs, however, is proving to be quite the challenge.

“It just slows us down, between the high water and all the damage that we’re encountering,” said Manik. What we could get done in a day is taking us much longer because we’re having to replace legs on docks and we’re having to re situate stuff that was damaged.”

Lake Kabetogama is facing similar issues.

“The ice the last couple of weeks ago did break up a bit, which created ice heaves,” said Grandview Resort Owner Mark Laurich. “When the wind shifted, the majority of all of the resorts lost their dock system due to the ice flow. We are all underwater, probably averaging two feet.”

Residents and business owners are sandbagging as much as possible as potential customers are told to come back another time.

“We’re doing the best we can,” said Laurich. “We have just transferred a few guests into the next year because it’s quite obvious you can’t dock your boats. All the docks are underwater.”

Kabetogama Township, located on the southern boundary of Voyageurs National Park, needs volunteers to help with sandbagging. Most docks are under water at area lakes and some 200 homes, resorts, and other infrastructure are at risk.

Kabetogama Township Supervisor John Stegmeir said outside help is especially needed since the average age of volunteers sandbagging right now is 65.

Local volunteers have been working alongside Voyageurs National Park Staff, bagging and delivering bags around the community since Tuesday, May 10. Physical exhaustion is setting in, and many more days of work are ahead until the water level peaks.

Protecting property at Rainy Lake has been hard to keep up with as well.

“It’s been pretty constant, I would say since Saturday,” said Rainy Lake Inn employee Amy McHarg. “There had been some going on before then, but then I think the water started rising a little quicker and it just kind of hit home a little bit more. So everyone really has been working around the clock.”

The Rainy River Headwaters, including Lake Vermilion, Vermilion River, Basswood, Kawishiwi, and Crane Lake, currently have record high lake and river levels. The water levels are expected to rise until Friday, May 20 before slowly receding.

At Namakan Lake, the high lake level has exceeded the 2014 record. The lake is expected to rise an additional 3-5 inches by Friday, reaching its crest in late May.

The high level of Rainy Lake is not breaking records currently, but it is still causing serious flooding and dock damage. Rainy Lake is expected to rise an additional 6-8 inches by Friday and then continue to rise, causing concerns for residents and business owners who are already working non-stop to prevent flood damage.

For Rainy Lake, water levels are expected to rise 6-8 more inches this week and continue to rise through late May.

“I hope there won’t be more damage. Positive thoughts you know, we’ll just continue to add more layers onto the docks and if need be, get some sandbags down around here and you know, we’re all in this together,” said McHarg.