Flooded homeowners still waiting for helpby Sea Stachura, Minnesota Public Radio
Six months after the August floods in southeastern Minnesota many businesses are back on their feet, but homeowners are still waiting for help from the state and federal governments.
St. Paul, Minn. — By the looks of Nordic Lanes in Rushford, Minn., life is back to normal in this flood-stricken town. Owner Jim Kitchens said he had to install new laminate lanes, new pin setters, digital scoring equipment, wall and ceiling panels. He also added flat screen monitors and remote bumpers.
"We were open the first of February," he said. "We just wanted to run everything, blow the doors off the place find out what worked and what didn't work."
Most of it worked, and most of the bowling leagues are back or plan to come back. But Rushford's infrastructure and homeowners aren't doing so well.
"You know, I feel like I'm just about a step forward, but I'm just about a step from my grave, too," Kitchens said.
City Administrator Windy Block is intimately familiar with all of Rushford's reconstruction efforts. He pulls up in front of two small cinder block structures. These are the city's main wells. For six months he's struggled to decontaminate them from E. Coli. In the meanwhile, Block says the town has used a small back-up well.
"It's running but it's on its last legs," Block said. "The pumping mechanism has got some real problems, but we don't dare shut it down or we'll have no water."
The city's wastewater treatment plant is in equally rough shape.
"See all those cement tanks?" Block said. "Yeah. We don't know how much of that is cracked. There could be cracks in it because of the flood."
Cracked tanks would force Rushford to rebuild the plant. That will cost a minimum of $7 million.
State legislators put $10 million in the disaster relief fund for infrastructure needs last fall. But the city has to wait for the Army Corps of Engineers to decide whether the plant is in the revised flood plain before the mayor can apply for aid. Block said he worries that money will return to the state's general fund if he can't apply for it soon.
Rep. Ken Tschumper, DFL-La Crescent, whose district includes Rushford, said the city will get the money. But he also said it is unlikely legislators will direct any additional money to the region because of the state's budget shortfall. (No other legislator in the region has plans for additional flood relief.)
"One of the things that I understand is that we have to have a much more thorough assessment of needs after a flood, after a major disaster," Tschumper said. "We probably didn't put enough money into the disaster relief bill that would have directly went to assist communities for things such as water treatment plants and sewage treatment plants."
In Stockton, Minn., there is no water treatment plant. Residents rely on individually drilled wells for water. Those wells are already contaminated by high levels of rust. More contamination is likely unless the town can build a single well it can actively monitor.
Stockton shares another problem with Rushford: residents still don't know how they'll rebuild.
Stockton Mayor Jack Roberts said 20 homeowners in his town agreed to buy-outs by the state, but none of them have been made offers yet. Buy-outs are made up of state and federal dollars.
"They're living in the FEMA trailers, but constantly they're being visited by the FEMA representatives who want to know what their progress has been," Roberts said. "Now how do you plan a house when you don't know what the outcome is going to be because you are waiting for the buy-out offer?"
Rep. Tschumper said he doesn't know what's delayed Stockton's buy-out packages. He says it may be related to the revisions in the flood plain map.
"There's a real frustration on everyone's part because things take a little longer, take too long at times," he said.
Tschumper said he would have liked to have proposed additional flood relief in a bonding bill had federal and state agencies completed more of its assessments. That is the irony here for residents and city managers, the government is moving too slowly and too quickly, all at once.
- Morning Edition, 02/18/2008, 7:25 a.m.