The winter of 2018-19 has been one for the history books for cold and snow in Minnesota, but, with the warming of spring upon us, the next issue that has come up took center stage at the March 26 meeting of the Wright County Board of Commissioners.
Wright County Emergency Management Director Seth Hansen came to the board seeking approval for the declaration of a state of emergency in Wright County, taking effect immediately and remaining in place until April 30 to deal with potential flooding.
Hansen said that there have been several areas identified in the county as being flood concerns – most on the perimeter of the county along rivers. As expected, the worst flooding issues have been in Delano and Rockford, which are often susceptible to flooding, but, given the conditions this winter, problems have been more widespread.
Over the last three weeks, sporadic road closures have been caused due to localized flooding. Shortly after the March 26 board meeting, the county was forced to close a portion of Co. Rd 36 east of Hwy. 101 due to water coming over the road, which forced a temporary closure – one of several such issues that have cropped up due to the melting snow and ice jams. But, Hansen said, for now, the county is in pretty good shape.
“The only thing that would make things worse right now would be a big rain event,” Hansen said. “That’s why we’re running the emergency declaration through the end of April because we just don’t know what might happen. If we start getting some heavy rain and the soil is already saturated, we could end up with more issues.”
Hansen added that the county declaration is just a first step. Both the Delano and Rockford City Councils are expected to approve similar city declarations to open them up for potential state or federal funding if problems persist.
“Most cities that have had flooding issues in the past, primarily places like Delano and Rockford, have action plans in place,” Hansen said. “They have prepared for this so, when the river hits certain levels, they have a plan to respond at each point. They all have their flood action plans, but I’ve met with all of them to make sure they don’t need any assistance from the county – or, if they did, what they needed. They’re prepared for what may be coming and we’ve all been monitoring it since late-February.”
Hansen pointed out that the state of emergency only covers county-owned land, buildings, roads and bridges. It doesn’t open up a pool of money for home or business owners that have incurred damages from localized flooding issues.
“I’ve had residents call in already asking what we can do for them,” Hansen said. “I’ve had to be the bearer of bad news because we can’t do anything for a private residence or business. Those have to go through insurance companies. We offer sandbags for what we pay for them through the highway department, but that’s been about it because it isn’t in our power to help private landowners with flooding issues.”
Hansen said he expects the state to declare a state of emergency at some point due to flood concerns statewide. If and when that happens, if the county incurs significant expense, it can seek access to some relief from the state funds that will be made available. But, at this point, the hope is that the worst of the winter/spring of 2019 is finally over.
“You never say you’re out of the woods because you don’t know what April will bring,” Hansen said. “We’re hopeful that the conditions will stay positive to get the melt over with and there won’t be additional problems, but we’re ready if they come.”
The board unanimously approved the declaration to run through the end of April