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March Mania

Walz gets look at southeastern Minnesota flooding, a possible $3 million to $4 million event

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz gets a tour of Oxbow Park and Zollman Zoo, which had multiple areas damaged in flooding after recent heavy rain, Thursday, July 11, near Byron. Joe Ahlquist / Forum News Service1 / 3
Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz and state Sen. Dave Senjem on Thursday, July 11, get a look inside the campground restrooms and shelter damaged in recent flooding. Oxbow Park and Zollman Zoo near Byron were especially hard it. Joe Ahlquist / Forum News Service2 / 3
Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz speaks during a tour of Oxbow Park and Zollman Zoo, which had multiple areas damaged in flooding after recent heavy rain, Thursday, July 11, near Byron. Joe Ahlquist / Forum News Service3 / 3

MANTORVILLE, Minn. — At $831,000 in public infrastructure damage — and counting — Dodge County drew a visit from Gov. Tim Walz, who came down Thursday, July 11, to hear from local officials about the need for state aid after recent flooding.

"You can see it on TV," Walz said. "I think many people saw the famous footage of the cows down the river here. But listening to some of the ideas batted about by local elected officials and the changes we can make to make the system work better, I think that's really important."

Walz met with local city, county and township leaders in Mantorville in Dodge County, then toured Oxbow Park and Zollman Zoo in Olmsted County.

Walz said the flooding that occurred June 27-28 and again on July 5 was essentially a single event as far as the state's emergency management is concerned.

In Mantorville, Dodge County Emergency Management Director Matt Maas talked about the impact the flooding has had on the county's infrastructure. Mass said many locations in the county received up to 8 inches of rain on June 27-28 and anywhere from 3 to 8 inches on July 5.

"Between those two events, it rained every day," he added. "So the water table never went down."

Maas said three of the county's four state highways were underwater and impassible in parts of Dodge County on June 28, and most major county roads were turned into waterways as well. All that water, he said, has amounted to at least $831,000 in severe damage to roads, parks, bridges and culverts.

"That's just from the first rain," Maas said. "That doesn't include July 5, so we're still counting."

Joe Kelly, director of the Minnesota Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, said it's likely when all the damage is assessed from both big rainstorms, Dodge County alone could be looking at $1.5 million in infrastructure damage.

And, with the flooding affecting several counties in southeast Minnesota including Dodge, Goodhue, Olmsted, Wabasha, Fillmore and Winona counties, the overall disaster declaration — the governor has not made a declaration yet, but both Walz and Kelly seemed confident such a declaration is likely — could reach a figure between $3 million and $4 million.

That figure likely won't reach the minimum benchmark for Federal Emergency Management Agency recovery funding, Kelly said. But the level of damage will likely qualify for state emergency relief funding from the disaster contingency account.

The state Legislature this year funded that account to the tune of $20 million, Kelly said. The fund was established in 2014 so the governor could make emergency declarations and begin helping local government units without calling a special session each time a disaster occurred.

However, for counties like Dodge, a $1.5 million disaster for the county's 20,000 residents would be the equivalent of $75 per person in the county. A disaster of similar financial scale in Hennepin County, Kelly said, would total more than $90 million.

"For Dodge County, this isn't a small disaster," he said.

The dollar totals might be smaller in Olmsted County, but there is still plenty of damage, especially along the western side of the county, said Capt. Mike Bromberg, Olmsted County's emergency management director.

"We've counted up roughly $610,000, and I'm still working on numbers," Bromberg said.

The first major rain event inflicted roughly $300,000 in infrastructure damage, but the July 5 rainstorm was worse for Olmsted County.

"The second one led to much more extensive road damage," Bromberg said. "The second one just was a wallop. It just annihilated roads."

The cost of that wallop is still being counted. Bromberg said the county engineer is looking at County Road 5 north of Byron to determine whether it can just be filled underneath with dirt and rock or if it needs pilings added for stabilization.

Needing to get relief aid both to counties and opportunities for state low-interest loans from the Small Business Administration available for home and business owners, Walz said the key was to work quickly.

"Getting caught in the bureaucracy now just adds insult to injury for people with wet basements," Walz said.