Gov. Mark Dayton stood in front of a group of 50 people in the Walnut Grove Community Center July 6 – each of those individuals in some way had been impacted by the flooding that resulted from heavy rains in southwest Minnesota.

Dayton led a delegation that toured flood damage.

“We are here to help,” said Dayton, adding they made the trip to find out the best way to do that.

While there are plenty of stories about flood-damaged roads, fields and basements, much of the conversation that afternoon took a different path. 

Several in the audience talked about the need to work on efforts to help mitigate this type of widespread flooding in the future through projects dedicated to holding back the water.

Congressman Collin Peterson, who represents Redwood County as part of Minnesota’s Seventh District said he has plenty of experience dealing with flooding, especially as it relates to another part of the district he served – the Red River Valley.

He added the reality is retention projects can and do work.

Those who live in North Hero Township in Redwood County know that, too, as a project implemented west of Walnut Grove a couple of years ago helped to make what was a challenging situation for so many residents and landowners better than it might have been.

A dry dam project installed in the township was able to hold back water that could have made the flooding event worse.

“Projects like this work,” said Lon Walling, Redwood County commissioner who represents the westernmost townships of the county.

The problem is the red tape.

“We need more water retention,” said Eugene Swanson of North Hero Township.

Swanson said as a North Hero Township supervisor he has been involved in flooding three different times, adding again this time there is damage to roads and bridges and that will require funding the township just does not have.

Swanson estimated at least $55,000 in damage in North Hero Township alone as a result of this most recent flood, and with an annual levy around $75,000 it just does not have the money.

Brian Johnson, who lives north of Walnut Grove, said the government can help by reducing the amount of regulations that are required to successfully complete critical retention projects like the dry dam.

“It took us 10 years to get that project done because of all of the rules and regulations,” said Johnson.

While taking a proactive approach to future flooding is critical, state leaders also talked about doing what can be done to help with the more immediate issues facing those in the area.

Joe Kelly, Minnesota Homeland Security and Emergency Management director, and Dave Frederickson, Minnesota Department of Agriculture commissioner, talked about the potential assistance that is available to those who have been impacted by the flood.

Frederickson said when it comes to crop damage the real impact will not be known until later in the season.

Farmers do have an option for assistance through the disaster loan program that can be used to help clean up farm operations, repair or replace farm structures and replace, seed, crop inputs, feed and livestock.

The program is offered through the Minnesota Rural Finance Authority.

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Kelly encouraged all of the city and township leaders as they work on repairs to be sure and document everything.

Since the July 6 visit to southwest Minnesota, the state’s Homeland Security office has officially requested a Federal Emergency Management (FEMA) preliminary damage assessment.

The threshold to receive FEMA funding to help with public infrastructure repairs state-wide is $7.7 million. Kelly said each county has its own threshold.

According to Jim Sandgren, Redwood County emergency management director, the amount of damage in North Hero Township alone will likely help the county meet that financial threshold.

What is also taking place is an effort to provide FEMA funding for individual damage. The threshold to meet that requirement is much harder, said Kelly, but he also encouraged those whose homes and businesses were damaged by the flood to document the financial loss as the total damage amount could potentially put it in the area where it would qualify.

At the meeting, Sandgren said of the nearly 300 homes in Wabasso, there were 12 that looked to have little or no water damage. That alone could help the county meet the FEMA threshold.

In a recent press release from District 16 Sen. Gary Dahms and District 16B Rep. Chris Swedzinski, they encouraged local citizens to make sure they are working with local sources to complete recovery work.

“This is a time when we are rolling up our sleeves and pitching in to do what it takes to help recover from the flooding,” Swedzinski said. “It’s hard work and, unfortunately, scammers have been known to try to take advantage of these situations by preying on people who are just trying to do the right things to restore their property. I strongly urge people to use extra caution in the services they contract, and the best way to do that is to work with local businesses and companies that have trusted track records.”

“Local businesses have names and faces that we know and trust, bringing an extra level of security that the job will not only get done, but get done right,” added Dahms. “These service providers are invested in our communities. The sense of pride they bring to the table in terms of helping friends and neighbors during a time of need is a big plus to customers.”

Peterson commented that he has never seen this type of flooding in the southwest region of the state, adding one can certainly tell after a flood like this where the wetlands used to be.

Dayton committed all of the departments in the state to assisting in whatever capacity is needed to help southwest Minnesota as it recovers from the flood.