This photo of storm damage to a field east of Spring Grove on County Highway 17 near the Highway 44 intersection shows how close we came to a repeat of last years flood. PHOTO: DAVID STOEGER/SPRING GROVE HERALD
This photo of storm damage to a field east of Spring Grove on County Highway 17 near the Highway 44 intersection shows how close we came to a repeat of last years flood. PHOTO: DAVID STOEGER/SPRING GROVE HERALD
One year ago, Houston County was reeling from flash floods. On the weekend of June 22-23, already saturated soils received 10-16 inches of rainfall, causing an estimated $6.2 million in damages to public infrastructure (mostly roads and bridges) throughout the county.

Damages to private property are harder to pin down, but many local farmers and others suffered washed out lanes as well as torn up fields and pastures, some of which collected acres of stones as flood waters tore down from surrounding hillsides. Luckily, there were no reports of fatalities or injuries.

Last week, Houston County emergency manager Kurt Kuhlers said that repairs to public property are now pretty much complete.

"We've now had four presidential disaster declarations (for flooding) in seven years," Kuhlers said. "Back when the 2007 flood occurred, we developed a hazard mitigation plan for FEMA (the Federal Emergency Management Agency). That's something we never had before.

"We did risk assessments and threat assessments, looking at what we could do to reduce losses... An example of that would be a flood buyout on a home located in the flood plain, or elevating a bridge, or burying power lines in a small community. We also did a lot of rip-rapping around culvert intakes and some of the township bridge abutments.

By the time the 2013 flood rolled around, many of those improvements were in place and undoubtedly blunted the extent of damages, Kuhlers said.

County engineer Brian Pogodzinski said that the 2013 flood damaged 24 county roads. At one time, 11 of those were closed.

"Most of the repairs are done," he reported. "We now have all of the bridges repaired, and work on roadway conditions are pretty much all completed. We still have a couple of culverts that need to be replaced and some ditch cleaning that needs to be done, and we have some rip-rap that needs to be replaced.

"County 19 over by Hidden Valley Campground had a hillside slough away. We put some guardrail along that road to keep traffic away from the edge, and we're still looking at getting that (hillside) repaired. I'm hoping it will get done this year, although time-wise, it will need approval at the state level, so we're going to be pushing the limits to have that done before winter. But by this winter, we'll certainly have everything done except for County 19.

Pogodzinski said that lingering effects include plenty of roads which suffered minor damage. Some of those will need to be rebuilt sooner than originally planned.

On the positive side, "Staff-wise, we've been through enough of these floods that things went pretty smoothly," he added.

"The '13 flood was pretty widespread, but the worst areas weren't as extreme as the 2007 flood. Because of that, we were able to make repairs more quickly. We also didn't have the complex designs (of roads and bridges) in most cases to deal with. That helped to get these repairs done more rapidly.

"We now know how to go through these things. We've actually had other counties coming to us, asking how to get through this process... Now in 2014, there's other counties undergoing flooding farther to the west. They're looking at some of the (MNDOT) district six counties going over there to help them out as far as (planning) how to do some of the repairs that will be needed.

Both Kuhlers and Pogodzinski noted that Houston County is currently "on the edge" of that 35-county area that's undergoing FEMA flood damage assessments. As of this report, the only counties in southeasters Minnesota that aren't on the 2014 FEMA list are Houston, Fillmore, Winona, and Wabasha.

Both officials also noted that the State of Minnesota has now set up an emergency fund to help counties that do not qualify for FEMA aid.

Pogodzinski said that he has volunteered to travel to 2014 flood areas to evaluate damages and assist planners. "In 2013, they (three engineers from MNDOT District 7) came over here to help out..." he stated. "They came over here and did it for us for nothing, now it's our chance to repay the favor.

Ron Meiners of the Root River Soil and Water Conservation District said that the Minnesota Board of Soil and Water Resources provided approximately $3 million to repair old and install new "conservation practices" on Houston County farms following the flood. That work is varied in nature, including pond clean-outs and other anti-erosion measures. In all, between 220-250 local farmers reported substantial damages from the event.

There's interest in avoiding damage to farms on the federal level as well, he reported. The new farm bill includes grant monies to build flood control structures, and the RRSWCD is now working on a proposal to install six of those in the Bee/Duck Creek watershed. That project will be a joint effort with Allamakee County, Iowa.