As Minnesota floodwaters recede, the cleanup of 2023 is underway in riverside communities
With St. Croix River water lapping just feet from his garage floor, 88-year-old Arnold Lindall — rubber boots on his feet, the wand of an electric pressure washer in hand — was busy putting the flood of 2023 behind him this week.
As he took a break from pressure washing, Lindall said his garage in Bayport, Minn., will be back to what it should be by the weekend.
“All my stuff is moved to another place that I own — and you bring it all back,” Lindall said.
Lindall lives in one of more than 40 upscale river condominiums along the St. Croix in Bayport. The units were designed to withstand flooding.
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Lindall keeps track of high-water marks on a wall in his garage. This year’s post is well below the highest recording from flooding, from back in 2001.
Lindall’s next-door neighbor, Mary Croft, has not made as much progress with her post-flood cleanup.
“I was sweeping, and I almost think it’s better to let it dry out a little before, because it’ll be lighter — but I know a lot of people are eager to get back into their garage,” Croft explained while standing in her damp garage.
A couple of weeks earlier, her garage floor was under several feet of water.
Croft said she and her neighbors were surprised at how quickly the floodwaters receded, after weeks of wondering just how high the river would rise.
“I was expecting more, so we got lucky!” she said with a laugh.
The spring flooding left behind more than wet floors and walls.
“It’s mostly twigs and branches,” Croft said. “A couple people have found dead animals, I guess. My neighbor next door — I don't know if it was alive or dead, but a snapping turtle.”
Just downstream, hundreds of pleasure boats are high and dry on land, waiting for the river to recede further so they can be launched.
“We’re taking our floodwall down right now to just kind of start preparing to put boats in the water. We’re definitely happy with how it turned out, it could’ve been a lot worse,” said Ellsa Ohmann, who runs the Bayport Marina office.
Ohmann said her clients are looking forward to getting back on the water, which will start happening next week.
“Usually, this time of year we see people just starting to go out and getting their boats ready, cleaning, and just prepping for the season — but we're three weeks behind now,” Ohmann said.
Upstream from Bayport, Stillwater Mayor Ted Kozlowski said he plans to ask the state for as much as $750,000 to help cover the cost of flood preparations there — including construction of a nearly half-mile long temporary berm that successfully kept floodwaters from reaching downtown Stillwater.
“Our budget is really small,” Kozlowski said. “This would be a significant — it’d be like 7 or 8 percent of our (annual) budget just for this levee wall … so it’s a huge expense for a city like ours.”
Kozlowski said the massive sand berm will not disappear as quickly as it came into being, but thanks to the receding St. Croix, removal work will start soon.
“As the river is dropping faster than the than it’s been forecast to drop, we’re going start taking this levee down here in the next few days,” Kozlowski said. “We’re all very anxious to get rid of this thing.”
Kozlowski said volunteers who filled sandbags to build the temporary levee may be asked to help clean up debris left behind by floodwaters.
“We’ll probably organize some community cleanup days, I would imagine,” he said. “Everybody really wants to help, and that’s kind of the coolest thing. I mean as painful is all of this is, the community effort and getting the volunteers — everybody's really excited to get rid of this thing, right?”
Kozlowski says the goal is to restore Stillwater’s riverfront park area by Memorial Day weekend.
In St. Paul, public works spokesperson Lisa Hiebert said although the Mississippi River is also receding, it will be a while before things are back to normal.
“The biggest thing for people to know is that Warner/Shepard Road is not open this weekend,” said Hiebert, who said the busy corridor could remain closed for another week while crews assess and address any flood damage.
“Closing Warner/Shepard Road is always a challenge — it’s a three-mile stretch that really helps people get in, out and around St. Paul, and especially into downtown,” Hiebert said. “We will open that as as quickly as we possibly can — again, just asking people to be patient.”
Elsewhere on the Mississippi, river levels continued to drop Friday at Aitkin, Wabasha, Winona and La Crescent.
In northwest Minnesota, the Red River is falling at Fargo-Moorhead and East Grand Forks. That north flowing-river has nearly crested at the Canadian border.