By Craig Moorhead

The Caledonia Argus

On the night of July 18-19, a focused band of storms brought heavy rainfall to portions of southeast Minnesota and western Wisconsin, with an EF 0 tornado (85 mph wind speeds) touching down in Vernon County, Wis. In Houston County, the National Weather Service reported 5.0 inches of rain at Money Creek, and 3.75 inches in Brownsville.

Houston County commissioners got a preliminary report on public infrastructure damages on Tuesday,  July 23.

“We had several cases of damage on the roadways,” county engineer Brian Pogodzinski stated.  Affected areas  include a pair of county roads (two spots on CSAH 21, and one on CSAH 22) that will likely qualify for State of Minnesota disaster funds, he added. The worst damage was on County 21 just east of Mound Prairie.

Two additional sites (estimated at $50,000 to $100,000 in total damages) could qualify for disaster funds too, the engineer noted, while several other locations along county roadways sustained lesser amounts of damage, but will not qualify for aid.

“The total cost we’re looking at is between $250,000 and $350,000,” Pogodzinski said. Houston County emergency management director Olivia Denney told the board that additional damages reported by townships and the City of Hokah will likely bump that total to somewhere between $280,000 and $400,000. Qualifying areas will receive disaster dollars that reimburse 75% of the cost of repairs.

Pogodzinski told the board that three options exist for repairing the roadways: The first (slowest) way would be to advertise for bids from contractors, while a better option would be for the county board to declare an emergency and bypass the normal bid process, getting quotes directly from contractors. 

The engineer recommended a third option. “What I would like to do is... use our equipment rental rates and stockpile prices. We already have those hourly costs from the suppliers, and we have estimates of the number of hours it will take to do the repairs. We can use those prices and pretty much get going as soon as we have the permits from the (Minnesota ) DNR and Army Corps (of Engineers).

“That will allow us to start work, possibly, early next week.”

Commissioners approved a resolution authorizing Pogodzinski to “immediately enter into necessary contracts” to get repairs going as soon as possible.

Other votes:

Commissioners approved a formal contract with Stantec Consulting Services for $18,500 to apply commercial herbicide to control Japanese hops along the Root River. The job was originally approved last winter, when the board accepted a USDA grant to pay for the work. The only cost to the county will be some staff hours, which will serve as an “in kind” contribution.

The board voted to grant 59 property tax abatements to 32 landowners. Houston County assessor Cindy Cresswell said that the total abated amount will be $52,118. About 40% of the abatement will likely impact Houston County tax collections, finance director Carol Lapham told commissioners. The rest would affect schools and townships.

Members also voted to rescind a March 26 search for a nurse case manager, opting to hire an “agency social worker – home based services” instead. Five public health nurses remain on staff, Public Health Nursing director John Pugleasa reported.

Jennifer Nelson of the Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation (SMIF) presented an overview of that organization (which serves 20 counties), and how it impacts Houston County specifically. Since 1986, SMIF has utilized approximately $153,000 in local donations to bring $1.8 million in assistance to Houston County, according to the report. The organization received a $3,400 donation from Houston County in 2019, and has asked for $3,750 in 2020. The 501(c)(3) focuses on economic and early childhood development issues throughout the region, seeking to “foster economic and community vitality” through grants, loans, and programming “for stronger kids, businesses and communities,” according to materials provided to commissioners.

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