U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar hears from community leaders from storm-impacted Benson and counties across Minnesota
U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar held a remote panel discussion on the storm and flooding damage across the state from last week’s storms. Invited to take part was the Mayor of Benson, which was hard-hit. Also on the panel were representatives from Stevens, Todd, Polk and Koochiching counties.
BENSON — Cities and counties from around the state continue to clean up from last week's severe weather, and lawmakers want to make sure they hear the needs of these communities, so the right help gets to the right places.
A day after Gov. Tim Walz toured the damage around Benson, U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., held a virtual roundtable discussion with representatives from impacted areas, including Mayor Terri Collins of Benson. Also on the call were county commissioners from Stevens, Todd, Polk and Koochiching counties.
"We have seen storms that have piled on from last year's drought and wild fires," Klobuchar said from Washington, D.C. "Now we have flooding in homes and businesses; silos, barns, fire halls damaged; keeping farmers out of their fields."
Collins shared with Klobuchar the challenges facing Benson after the May 12 storms. Damage was considerable and wide-reaching.
"On the night of the storm, the first thing that happened with us, it ripped off the roof of our main manufacturing plant and started an electrical fire," Collins said. "We relied on citizens to call in the downed power lines that were everywhere, the hundreds of trees blocking the roadways."
Collins was referencing the Case IH manufacturing facility along U.S. Highway 12 in Benson. It was reported last week that the Benson Fire Department on the day of the storm responded to the site to contain a fire at the plant.
Even though power has been restored in the city, there are still damaged power lines, poles and equipment. There is also all the water from flooded homes and businesses coming into the wastewater treatment plant.
"We have to work with (the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency) because we can't treat the water quick enough to get it to the river. That is a big problem," Collins said, adding the river is also swollen, which is a challenge.
There was also damage to the high school football field and track, and even the cemetery took a major hit, with headstones down, just a few weeks before Memorial Day.
"It is the little things, the big things," Collins said. "It is the timing. People getting ready for graduation, farmers trying to get into the fields."
Crop planting was a major concern raised by pretty much everyone who spoke on the call. With the wet and cold spring, farmers were already delayed and the storms have just made it worse. That comes at a bad time globally, as the Russian invasion of Ukraine has already put a strain on food production.
"It makes it all the more important that we try our best to produce whatever food we can," Klobuchar said.
Klobuchar, along with a bipartisan group of fellow lawmakers, has already reached out to the United States Department of Agriculture to look at offering flexibility in the final planting dates for crops that are covered under the federal crop insurance programs. For example, in order to access coverage, corn needs to be planted by May 31 for most of the state and June 10 for soybeans.
"We are asking the USDA for that immediate relief today," Klobuchar said.
Impacted agriculture and livestock producers should also contact their local USDA Farm Service Agency about available programs such as zero-interest loans to help with storm and crop damage. There are also emergency programs to repair in-field conservation practices, such as water and sediment control basins, that might have been damaged in the storm.
"We will survive. Everything is going to be later this year," said Polk County Commissioner Joan Lee. "We'll just keep fighting."
Over the next several days, assessors from the Federal Emergency Management Agency will begin visiting impacted counties to look over the damage to public infrastructure such as roads, utilities and facilities. Approximately 49 counties in Minnesota are looking for federal disaster assistance, with an estimated $27 million in damages already expected.
"That is well above the $9 million number they have to hit" to be eligible for assistance, said Chuck Ackman, outreach director for Klobuchar's office. "They have to figure things out, but the state people are optimistic."