Part 2: 'Long After The Water'

Posted at: 05/07/2013 6:01 PM
Updated at: 05/09/2013 10:51 PM
By: Laurie Stribling

Last year's summer flooding uprooted many people across the Northland, but those waters did more than physical damage in Carlton County. For some smaller communities there, the flood left a hole in their housing market and tax base.

Moose Lake was one town hit the hardest.

"We're in the midst of construction right now, getting our basement rebuilt," resident Cindy Kaspszak said. "We feel like we're moving forward and we're going to survive this."

Kaspszak is one of many Moose Lake flood victims buried under water last year. Her entire basement was filled with two feet of sewage soaking precious memories in filth.

"A lot of my sons stuff from graduation was down there, pictures, all the mementos, all our Christmas decorations," Kaspszak said. "You just don't realize you're going to have to tear everything out and how much you've lost until you start tossing it into dumpsters, I guess."

Kaspszak not only suffered damage to her basement, but the guest house in her backyard was completely destroyed as well.

"You're a little bit in shock," Kaspszak said. "You're a little bit in shock the entire process. You just go through the motions and once the flooding is done you start taking care of the mess."

Many families in Moose Lake and Barnum have similar stories to Kaspszak. While Kaspszak is moving on, others are still knee deep in damage.

"Certain areas of the county we look okay," Carlton County Assessor Marci Moreland said. "Other areas of the county that were hit hardest by the flood have a lot of work still ahead of them."

Moreland has been assessing homes in Carlton County since the flood. For many families, their property values dropped, and as a result they'll pay lower taxes. One big problem, other community members will have to make up the difference.

It's estimated Moose Lake could lose 15 to 20 percent of their tax base.

"When you have small communities like Barnum and Moose Lake, who don't have a lot of tax base to collect tax from anyway, they're going to be struggling for awhile until they can recoup some of that cost," Moreland said.

If some people still sorting through the damage decide to simply walk away from their homes, that will even further affect the tax base.

"When you get into smaller communities like Thomson, or Moose Lake or Barnum, if all of sudden you lose 10 to 15 homes, it's like a huge chunk out of the whole fabric of the community," Drew Digby, with Flood Homes With Hope, said.

Digby and his team are working to raise money in an effort to cut on rebuilding costs and save houses from abandonment.

"What we can do is help them make the choices clear, and when we can, bring in volunteer labor to cut the cost," Digby said.

While some people are still in limbo, others had homes that could not be salvaged. For some of those flood victims, there is state and federal money set aside to relieve the financial burden.

"I just thought I was out of luck," Foster said. "I did a lot of crying; I don't cry a lot, but I was in shock. You don't expect to wake up one day and see something like this. It was awful."

Foster owned a house off London Road in Duluth and she was renting it out when the flood hit. Flood waters filled up the basement and about three feet of the ground-level floor. The house was condemned and Foster didn't have flood insurance.

"I didn't think I could really do anything," Foster said. "That was what was so hard to deal with."

Several months later, the silver lining she'd been looking for finally showed up.

"The buyout program has really been a great example of how government should work," Duluth Community Relations Officer Daniel Fanning said.

Fanning said more than 2 million dollars in funding from both FEMA and the Department of Natural Resources will buy 20 Duluth homes. One of the homeowners involved is Stacy Foster.

"This was really the only chance we had to help some these folks move on with their lives and be made whole again," Fanning said.

Each home will be bought by the city, demolished and made into green space.

"I'm just really happy the city came through, and the state," Foster said. "Somebody did the work that was necessary."

Whether they're still cleaning up or finally moving on, the flood affected everyone in a different way. Some lost everything; others were there to help. Regardless of the struggle, many people had one thing in common; the resilience to rise above the water.