Damage estimates from recent flash floods continue to mount, Kurt Kuhlers told county commissioners on July 2.

Kuhlers, who serves as emergency manager for Houston County, said that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) would look at damage to local infrastructure on July 9.

Additional reports from townships have now boosted Houston County's damage figures to $6.2 million. That amount only includes public property, Kuhlers added.

"That number has been going up a little bit every day," Kuhlers said. "With flood disasters... you don't always see the damage right away. It starts to show up weeks or months later. A couple townships called in this morning, and they're finding more. I think we might be a little bit low on some of our estimates, but we'll find out."

County engineer Brian Pogodzinski reported that the MnDOT State Aid office has been in the area reviewing the situation as well.

State assistance for roadways could come from two different funding sources, he added.

"The state's trying to figure out how much damage there is at this point," Pogodzinski stated.

Kuhlers said he did not expect any FEMA assistance for homeowners.

Commissioners approved a resolution requesting federal assistance. The governor of Minnesota will be asked to petition the President of the United States to "declare the County of Houston, Minnesota, to be a major disaster area, through appropriate channels."

If adopted, FEMA assistance would then become possible. The resolution asks for aid through the Public Assistance (infrastructure support) and Human Services Programs (P.L. 93-288 and 106.390), as well as the Hazard Mitigation Program (P.L. 93-288 and 106.390).

Ag damage also mounting

Ron Meiners of the Root River Soil and Water Conservation District (RRSWCD) appeared later. He said that agricultural sector damage estimates are rapidly rising up as well, but didn't offer a guess on how high they could wind up.

"We're taking data everyday, assessing a lot of the damage that individuals have experienced out there in the ag sector, and those numbers continue to pile up. It was a unique flood. This one seemed to come with more velocity than the '07 or '08 floods.

"Back then, we had a lot more problems with sloughing, problems with housing and banks falling away. We're seeing more scour erosion this time, and debris delivered all over the place.

"We're going to continue to collect that data and assess the damage to our watershed structures that are in place.

"I'm going to be drafting letters to (legislators) Walz and Davids and Jeremy Miller, just asking them to consider special legislation, if there is a declaration of disaster, to assist individual landowners on some of that damage."

Meiners' office later confirmed that local landowners are being asked to call in damage reports to his office at (507) 724-5261.

Personnel matters approved

The board voted to hire Justin Conway as engineering supervisor effective July 15 with a starting salary of $47,777. Conway currently works for the Highway Department as a technician with duties in engineering and sign maintenance. The department's current engineering supervisor, Gary Bolstad, is retiring on Aug. 1.

Commissioners voted to take the recommendation of personnel director Tess Kruger and advertise for two positions to replace Conway, while hiring only one applicant.

One of the jobs would be highway signage technician, while the other would be a maintenance position.

"It would be worded that only one of the positions would be filled," Kruger said. "Should our successful candidate be an internal candidate from the maintenance side, we want to be able to immediately look at applicants for that position."

Commissioners voted to thank Karen Sanness for filling in as Social Services supervisor and allow her to return to her duties as social worker. Sanness requested the move last April.

The supervisory job will be taken over by a new hire, which was approved as well. Timothy Hunter will join the department on July 23, coming from Wabasha County where he worked as a social worker.

Kruger said that Hunter has an educational background in public administration with considerable work in program design. That, coupled with his social work experience, made him an ideal candidate, she noted. The position will be placed at C-52, step 5 on the county's pay scale ($57,387 per year).

The board also approved retroactive overtime pay for two "exempt" MAPE (Minnesota Association of Professional Employees) employees for long hours associated with flooding.

"Only those hours in excess of 80 hours per pay period that are documented to be directly related to the emergency response, clean up and repair will be eligible for overtime payment," she stated.

Other matters by the board

City of Houston Police Chief Dave Breault asked commissioners to allow the Houston County Shop building at the junction of State 76/County 9 to be used as a temporary emergency command center in the event that the existing fire station becomes unusable.

Breault said flooding can make an alternate location necessary, and the current one (Stone Church) is inadequate for lack of space and parking. They approved the request.

Commissioners voted to approve an annual feedlot grant from the State of Minnesota.

Other motions accepted the continuation of an existing service agreement of election equipment, while a third approved UCare, Blue Pass and Medica to provide services to recipients of managed health care in Houston County.

The board decided to hold the county auction "in house" this year due to a lack of items from cities, townships and schools.

Ordinarily, auctioneers are asked to submit bids to run the event. The Houston County Sheriff's Department will handle the 2013 auction, which will feature six to seven vehicles and some computer equipment.

Commissioner Steve Schuldt (a professional auctioneer) volunteered to help out. All proceeds will go to the county.