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Klobuchar talks flood damage

Sen. Amy Klobuchar (second from left) meets Brent Feikema (from left) as Kenny Feeken and Gene Metz look on Tuesday afternoon at the Public Works building in Worthington. Brian Korthals/Daily Globe1 / 2
Sen. Amy Klobuchar listens to county officials during Tuesday’s meeting in Worthington. Brian Korthals/Daily Globe2 / 2

WORTHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) met with officials Tuesday from Rock, Nobles, Jackson and Murray counties for an update on the recent flood damage as part of her three-day Growing Minnesota tour.

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Klobuchar began the meeting by saying the federal government declared 32 Minnesota counties disaster areas, and the state “most definitely” met the $7.4 million threshold to attain FEMA assistance. In addition, the counties involved have more than $3.50 per capita in damages, which will help them qualify for infrastructure matching funds.

Representatives from each county updated Klobuchar on the damages their particular counties have seen and the progress they have made on repairs.

Nobles County Commissioner Gene Metz said, “There is some damage that is just never going to be put back in place.

“Some of the fixes have been Band-Aid fixes, but with winter coming, some of these roads won’t be put back in place the way they really should be. Safety is going to be an issue,” he said. “It won’t be a quick fix, but we’re thankful that FEMA is there, and hopefully they come through.”

It was a clear consensus throughout the meeting that the townships in each of the counties have taken the brunt of the flood damages. According to Nobles County Emergency Management Director Joyce Jacobs, 14 of the 20 townships in Nobles County turned in preliminary damage assessment reports and only one city.

Kenneth Feeken, Little Rock Township supervisor, said they have 50 percent of their gravel budget used up on wash outs, and haven’t been able to do any re-graveling.

“We’re out of money. … We’re waiting for that FEMA money, and right now we’re in the bidding process so we can start cleaning some of the ditches out and getting the roads in shape,” Feeken said.

Applicant briefing for FEMA begins next week, and Rock County has the first chance to apply for assistance in the state. Rock County Emergency Management Director Kyle Oldre explained the process.

“FEMA will come in and meet with our 22 applicants and meet with each individual township one at a time, and they will review the paperwork (the townships) have completed,” Oldre said.

He also said in addition to the 12 townships in Rock County, the city, the county and the railroad will all meet with FEMA.

Oldre noted that FEMA could process these applications two different ways, which could affect the amount of assistance given, especially in the townships.

As an example, Oldre said FEMA may process a township as one application, or they may decide to process each site individually.

“(However) if they take it by site, the minimum threshold per site is $3,000, so if Little Rock has (for example) 10 sites that are $1,500 a piece, there is $15,000 they’ll never capture back,” Oldre explained.

Klobuchar said she will advocate for processing these applicants by townships alone. Applicants could be waiting as little as three months before they see any money from FEMA.

Oldre also updated Klobuchar on the damage to the railroad managed by Southern Minnesota Railway.

“It’s about $1.5 million in damages … and right now it’s open from Luverne to the east, but it is still not open to the west,” he said.

Oldre estimates it will be about a month before the western half of the rail is open again, due to the wait on track to be built and shipped.

Jackson County Emergency Management Direct Jeff Johnson said that at first he thought his county was clear of any major damage.

“Initially we thought we were one of the lucky ones, but then Federated Rural Electric Association (REA) put their calculations in and came up with about $495,000, which helped us meet our threshold,” Johnson said. “So then we went back to the county and said, ‘You may want to call every township and city and reevaluate where you thought you were because we’re going to meet the threshold just with REA.’”

Johnson also said the county has a significant number of ditch debris and the cost for debris removal equates to about $90,000. Of the 18 townships in Jackson County, seven of them will file applications with FEMA.

In Murray County, engineer Randy Groves echoed the theme that townships were hit hard during the flood.

“On behalf of the townships, even in Murray County, they’re the ones that really struggle with disasters like this,” Groves said. “We still have some ditch clean up to be done in Murray County, and with the townships we’re still working on some roads and culverts.”

Before concluding the meeting, Klobuchar spoke briefly about the Lewis & Clark Water Project.

“Last year the administration only approached us with $5 million. We got it up to $8.5 million … and if we can pass the Water Bill, the Committee of Appropriations got the whole pool of money for the six projects to the point where we (Lewis & Clark Project) could be in the neighborhood of $15 million,” Klobuchar said.

Worthington Mayor Alan Oberloh asked if the project had a better chance of getting funds if it was shovel ready, and Klobuchar responded that it would help.

Following the meeting, Klobuchar visited flood damage sites in Jackson County with local officials.

Daily Globe Reporter Erin Trester may be reached at 376-7322.

Erin Trester
Erin Trester is the crime and city reporter for the Daily Globe. She's a native of Lewiston, MN, but moved to Buffalo, NY to attend college and obtained her bachelor's degree in Communications. She started at the Western New York Catholic Newspaper as a reporter in Buffalo, but in October 2013 she returned to her home state to start with the Daily Globe. Most of her spare time is taken up by her 13-year-old thoroughbred named Faith, but some of her other hobbies include reading, fishing and spending time with friends and family. 
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