Houston County commissioners held an emergency meeting on June 25 to deal exclusively with issues from flash flooding that did an estimated $5.8 million in damage to county infrastructure over the weekend of June 22-23.

The board passed resolution 13-21, which formally declared a state of emergency in the county. The document cites "extensive damage to private homes" along with "potential similar damages to businesses and local governments."

That "potential damage" to businesses, residences and local governments was not included in any totals calculated so far.

Houston County Emergency Manager Kurt Kuhlers said that the distinguishing characteristic of the flash flooding is that it was throughout the entire county.

"We're getting reports of anywhere from 10 to 16 inches of rain last weekend. Damages were primarily to infrastructure, such as roads, bridges and culverts. There were very few reports of any home damage, but a lot of people have water in their basements. Luckily there were no fatalities and no injuries."

Kuhlers said that townships and the county's Highway Department were still preparing PDAs (preliminary damage assessments) at the time of the meeting.

His office totaled those the following day, arriving at the nearly $6 million figure. A copy of the countywide PDA was then submitted to the Minnesota Department of Homeland Security.

"In 2007, it was more the northern half of the county, and in 2008, it more the south. This one is the whole county," Kuhlers told commissioners.

"I have some genuine concerns. In 2007, we had enough damage in seven Minnesota counties for a Presidential Disaster Declaration. This time it's mostly just Fillmore and Houston counties in Minnesota along with adjacent areas in Iowa and Wisconsin.

"We have substantial damage but I don't think it's going to be enough to push us into another FEMA-qualified event."

"I asked the state if we can fall in with Iowa and Wisconsin. But, I've been told by officials that it's never been done before. I'm hoping that with some cooperation between the states and the governors, we can pull this together."

Early PDA reports from Yucatan Township alone were over $300,000 while Wilmington had $300,000 in damages, Kuhlers said. "We have a lot of road closures on the township level," he added.

A follow-up to the 72-hour emergency road repairs authorization passed on Sunday also appeared on the agenda.

The resolution (13-22) authorizes county engineer Brian Pogodzinski and county attorney Jamie Hammell to enter into contracts on behalf of commissioners for quotes under $100,000. The new resolution remains in place until rescinded and covers permanent repairs.

In a follow-up interview, Kuhlers said that individuals and businesses can contact his office at (507) 725-5834 with dollar amounts of damage, so if a FEMA declaration is granted, he could follow up with them concerning potential funding sources and assistance.

EWP assistant applied for

Ron Meiners of the Root River Soil and Water Conservation District (RRSWCD) appeared with Gary Larson, District Conservationist for the NRCS (Natural Resources Conservation Service).

They brought information on the NRCS Emergency Watershed Protection (EWP) program, along with a draft request for assistance.

According to NRCS documents, EWP provides "help to remove threats to life and property that remain in the nation's watersheds in the aftermath of natural disasters."

In Houston County, a home foundation in Brownsville that was exposed by a soil slough would qualify for aid, along with a large number of flood control structures and culverts where storm debris will have to be removed, Meiners and Larson reported.

The program requires a 25 percent local match. Commissioners were told that after 2007 floods, some of those dollars were provided by other governmental assistance, such as state aid.

Meiners said that agricultural sector damages, including crops and fencing are thought to be around $700,000. "But that's just a rough estimate," he cautioned.

Commissioners voted to apply for EWP assistance. Following a damage survey report, projects will come to the board for case-by-case approval, since the local match is mandatory.

Road repairs underway countywide

County Engineer Brian Pogodzinski reported on efforts to shore up county roadways.

"We've utilizing 15 dump trucks from three other counties and 21 dump trucks from six local contractors (in addition to Houston County equipment)," he said.

Excavators and a road grader were also rented from contractors.

Townships have also been utilizing private contractors to open roads. Pogodzinski said that this time around, the county purposely tried to limit how many of those resources they used.

"In 2007 when the floods hit, the county pretty much swooped in and took every truck that was out there, every piece of the equipment. The townships had to wait and some of them got in a bind."

"I think we're getting to that point where we don't need a lot of additional assistance from other counties," he said.

"We're getting to that point, where we're transitioning from getting roads open to doing the repairs adjacent to the roadway. A lot of ditches are eroded right up to the pavement.

"There have been mudslides showing up pretty much every day since Saturday night. They could keep showing up since everything is so saturated. I've been told that the waters came back up and were overtopping a roadway in Yucatan Valley last night due to a one-inch rain.

"At the end of the day, we'll be down to three road closures. Two of them will remain closed for an extended period of time, and the other one will reopen in the next day or two.

CSAH 25 from State Highway 16 to CSAH 21 will remain closed indefinitely. Pogodzinski said a section 200 feet in length will be replaced with concrete paving, which is more resistant to flood damage.

"It's not the first time we've lost pavement in that stretch," he noted. Those repairs are estimated as taking a couple months to complete.

CSAH 12 is also closed indefinitely from Inch Mile Road to CSAH 11. The rebuilding of damaged roadway there will likely be handed off to a contractor, Pogodzinski said. The road will only be open to local traffic until that project is complete.

"I'm estimating that we have $550,000 worth of damage on our major country roadways," Pogodzinski stated.

"On the total system, we're looking at $2 million plus at this point. It could go up from there when we get more information on our structure damages. It could be $2.5 to $3 million."

The board also authorized Kuhlers to purchase 2,000 additional sandbags. Those are staged in areas where the Root and Mississippi rivers flood, since there's usually not enough time to place them in advance of flash floods, he noted.