Update: county responds swiftly to flood emergency
By Emily Bialkowski
Emergency management officials have responded swiftly to the continued risk of damaging high water throughout Houston County. A special meeting of the county board June 25 resulted in the passing of an official “state of emergency” declaration along with an emergency repair of bridges and roads resolution, the latter of which expedites road repairs.
Early estimates have county road damage pinned at the $2 million mark, though that number is expected to climb. Township roads have also been heavily damaged with Yucatan reporting $300,000 in damage and Wilmington following suit.
As of Tuesday afternoon, all county roads have reopened to traffic except:
• County Hwy. 12, closed indefinitely from Inch Mile Road to County Hwy. 11
• County Hwy. 25, closed indefinitely from State Hwy. 16 to County Hwy. 21
• County Hwy. 27, closed approximately 2,000 feet west of Bangs Road near address 16776 County Hwy. 27.
Ten to 16 inches of rain fell in Houston County the weekend of June 22 and 23 causing damaging flash flooding.
District Conservationist Gary Larson, who is the local USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service rep., said, “We’re getting reports of a lot fences down, a lot of debris and wood,” adding that he is also getting reports of “significant agricultural damage” that hovers around the $700,000 figure.
Flood control measures installed after the 2007 floods have done their job, he said, but have taken a beating and will require debris to be removed.
In that light, the county board also signed a letter requesting help from the Emergency Water Protection Program.
Houston County Emergency Management Director Kurt Kuhlers said the county has sustained “substantial damage,” but he fears it’s not enough to trigger a federal disaster declaration.
Commissioner Justin Zmyewski said he has been in contact with State Senator Jeremy Miller looking for support. The governor will ultimately have to review the request before it gets pushed to the federal level.
In 2007 flood water tore through seven counties, but this time Houston and Fillmore counties stand alone. Kuhlers said he asked if the county could file with its neighbors in western Wisconsin and Iowa but was told it has never been done before.
“I’m hoping that we can pull this together and get [President] Obama to declare it a tri-state disaster,” Kuhlers said.
“If we don’t qualify for federal assistance I’m hoping the state legislator will help us out. It’s a big question mark yet.”
Other than reports of water in basements, Kuhlers said most damage has been to infrastructure. Some farmers have reported missing cattle due to downed fences, but no herd fatalities have come in, and no human fatalities or injuries have been reported.
With continued rain expected, Kuhlers emphasized that residents must remain vigilant, as mudslides and more flash flooding are possible.
“What’s unique with Houston County is its flash flooding. It comes barreling through and then it’s gone,” he said.