Weather Forecast


Waters receding in Renville County, as damage estimates rise

OLIVIA — As waters slowly recede from one of the wettest Junes on record, damage estimates in Renville County continue to rise.

Although county parks are being reopened, it is still impossible to determine the full extent of damage, according to Mark Erickson, director of community development and environment for Renville County. Water continues to cover portions of roads and trails in some of the most popular parks along the Minnesota River. It is not safe to venture into some of the water-covered areas to assess the damage, he said.

Anderson Lake Park is the only park closed at this point, but only partial access is allowed at Beaver Falls, Skalbakken and Vicksburg county parks.

The county park system has already lost the camping revenues that would have been generated during late June and the 4th of July weekend, typically the busiest of the summer.

Federal Emergency Management Agency officials toured the county and met with officials last week to develop a preliminary assessment of damage. At this point, the county estimates the damage to uninsured public infrastructure at $810,000, according to Mike Hennen, Renville County emergency management director.

He added that reports of damage have continued to come in after the FEMA visit.

He said the damage has been mainly to roads and culverts. The worst case is a township road about two miles south of Sacred Heart. Waters washed out a 30-foot section of the township road to a depth of 10 to 12 feet. It will cost an estimated $80,000 to rebuild.

Minnesota is expected to qualify for federal disaster funds to cover much of the damage to public infrastructure. Federal funds would cover 75 percent of the damage costs, while state funds would provide 25 percent.

Hennen noted that the timing of the floodwaters poses challenges of its own. If a presidential disaster declaration is made as expected, it will take weeks to complete contracts with the federal government for the work to be done.

The county will then have 60 days to get the work done, but it’s not likely that the work can get underway until September or even October, he said.

June flooding is also far more damaging to the county parks than the more typical March or April floodwaters, according to Erickson.

The June waters came after the county’s park staff already had the parks open and equipped for the summer season. Picnic tables have been washed away, landscaping work ruined, and it’s anybody’s guess as to how many water-soaked trees have or will be down and will need to be removed, he said.

Park staff is waiting to see if portions of water-covered roads and trails are washed out, or merely soaked. They know they will face lots of work removing silt and sand that the floodwaters are sure to have dumped on park grounds and the roads and trails.

Erickson said it’s impossible to know how many people have been adversely affected by the flooded parks. While the number of campers is tracked, there’s no way to know how many people visit for day use activities such as hiking on the trails and fishing.

Unfortunately, some of the most popular trails and fishing destinations — such as the west side of Skalbakken Park along Hawk Creek and the Big Eddy in Vicksburg Park — remain inaccessible due to the waters.

When will the parks reopen and be back to normal? That’s the question everyone is asking, said Erickson. “People want us to put a date on it. We can’t. We don’t even know.’’

The other unknown in the county is how large the economic toll will be to the private economy. Hennen said that the county estimates 1,100 to 1,200 basements in the county had water at some point, with about 75 known cases of backed up sewage.

It’s also too early to make an accurate assessment of the damage to crops in the county. Kevin Beekman, Farm Service Agency director in Renville County, said the extent of damage won’t be known until harvest time, but there are many, scattered drowned-out areas in fields across the county.

Portions of two county roads crossing the Minnesota River — 3 and 21 — also remain closed.

The county provides a daily update on the status of the parks and roads on its website:

Tom Cherveny

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.

(320) 214-4335