UPDATED: High water levels continue to be a concern
Gov. Mark Dayton and his public safety commissioner made stops in Wadena and Ottertail last week as part of a tour of storm damage in central Minnesota.
Wadena has seen unprecedented flooding this month due to extreme rains. Officials there don’t have an accurate estimate of how many basements have been swamped, but the damage from the rain water and sewage backup is significant and it’s likely that next to none of it will be covered by insurance.
With floods so rare in this area, few if any homeowners have insurance that covers cleanup and losses, Wadena Mayor Wayne Wolden told Dayton.
While the public costs of fighting a flood are eligible for federal and state reimbursement, direct support for homeowners is “the big gap in federal coverage,” said Dayton, who earlier this month requested a presidential disaster declaration for 51 Minnesota counties.
On Monday, it was announced that President Barack Obama declared eight of those counties eligible for federal disaster aid, and more counties are expected to join the list as local officials complete their damage assessments.
That federal aid will help local governments pay for flood-related clean-up costs and repairs to public facilities. Washington will reimburse 75 percent of the costs, with the state expected to pick up the rest.
Dayton has said that he may call a special legislative session to fund the state portion, but has not made a final decision about the issue. During his visit to Wadena, he wouldn’t commit to a timeframe for a possible special session.
“I don’t know yet,” Dayton said, pointing out it will remain unclear how much additional money might be needed until damage assessments are complete. “I’ll have to consult with legislative leaders before we proceed… I don’t want to put out false hopes that homeowners’ losses will be covered. I can’t say that.”
There is some limited federal help available for homeowners, Dayton noted. A Department of Housing and Urban Development program offers assistance for qualifying victims of disasters who are struggling to make mortgage payments.
Wadena residents are getting help cleaning up from the American Red Cross, which plans to conduct an assessment of damaged properties, and has pledged cleanup kits. In addition, volunteers coordinated by the state chapter of Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster are expected in the area shortly after waters recede.
To request assistance, contact the United Way of the Twin Cities at 1-800-543-7709.
Outside of Wadena, high water forced lane closures on U.S. Highway 10 near Aldrich earlier this month.
In Hewitt, at least 25 residents reported water in their basements.
In New York Mills, water turned up in homes that had never before had any flooding issues, said Darla Berry, city clerk.
She said Miller Street near Highway 10, which was already affected by flooding, was impassible after the rain that poured down on July 11.
Verndale City Clerk Barbara Holmes said a few homeowners have complained about flooding.
Water seeped into Verndale Mayor Raye Ludovissie’s basement, but he wasn’t worked up about it.
“There’s nothing you can do,” he said. “It came too fast.”
On the north side of Verndale Monday, Wayne Perius battled the water that continued to flow onto his property, a low point, and into his basement.
“It’s to the point where I can’t pump the water out of the basement at all,” he said.
Perius was able to salvage most valuables, but some photo albums were waterlogged.
“Every picture I have of my children - the only photos I have,” he said with frustration.
In Perham, no flooding had been reported in the city limits. Some lake property owners in surrounding townships, however, have been dealing with high water levels and flooding. Those who live on land-locked lakes with no outlets or inlets have been hit especially hard.
At Little McDonald, Kerbs and Paul lakes, west of Perham, water pumping options are being pursued as a short-term solution.
South of Perham, at Rush Lake, high water has forced resort owners to turn away customers. Excessive rainfall has left some cabins surrounded by water. Adverse effects are also seen at individual cabins on Rush Lake.
“We’re talking about long-term water issue concerns as well as short-term issues,” said Otter Tail County Public Works Director Rick West. “Last fall we were in pretty good shape concerning water levels, but this summer we can see the effects of what a wet cycle can bring.”
“The northeast section of Otter Tail County has been especially hard hit with high water problems,” he added. “As a county, we’re doing everything we can to assist our residents.”
County-supplied sandbags are being used in various parts of the county. Sandbags can be purchased at county garages in Battle Lake, New York Mills, Pelican Rapids and Fergus Falls. More information is available on the county website, at www.co.otter-tail.mn.us.
Dayton has crisscrossed the state over the past month to survey the flood damage from a historic wet start to summer.
Not only was last month the wettest June on record statewide, it was the wettest month ever recorded in Minnesota, according to University of Minnesota climatologist Mark Seeley.
The extent of flooding statewide is “almost unprecedented,” Dayton said.
Tom Hintgen, Otter Tail County Correspondent for the Perham Focus, contributed to this report.