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Rushford flood loans reach $17 million


Fri, Jun 27th, 2008
Posted in Government

RUSHFORD - It was a big moment, but definitely understated.

At the previous Rushford city council meeting, the business loan spreadsheet of projected flood recovery loans said that the fund was one half million dollars "in the hole."

Yet at the recent June 23 meeting, where it was expected that the council would have to make some hard decisions and prioritize the remaining requests, the spreadsheet presented by city manager Windy Block had a "zero" balance.

It probably should have been a dramatic moment, but was anti-climatic. Maybe everyone's just tired. Or, it could be because we are, after all, Minnesotans-as Garrison Keillor might say, we're not given to jumping up and down at good news.

But in a six-month process that has never been short of drama, a quiet ending might be just what the doctor ordered. Diligent work by both the local EDA and the specially appointed flood loan committee, especially in these past two weeks, made what could have been a rough meeting for the city council a breeze, a fact no doubt appreciated especially by council members Nancy Benson and Larry Johnson since Robert Dahl's recent illness and Laura Deering's planned absence made them the only council members present.

The one touch of ceremony occurred when the final loan was approved by the council. Mayor Les Ladewig said, "And with that final loan, I'd like to take a moment to thank the people who worked so hard to make this whole thing go."

Ladewig named the members of EDA Flood Revolving Loan Committee, the beginning of the loan application process: Gordon Hatleli, Roger Metz (both from the EDA), David Boe from Peterson and Pete Roehl, a retired banker from Winona. Ladewig also thanked the local EDA, which is where the loans went next before moving on to city council: Gordon Hatleli, Paul Engrav, Brad Woxland, Roger Metz, Jim Wolter, Les Ladewig, Nancy Benson.

City Clerk Kathy Zacher and manager Windy Block were also instrumental in making the process to distribute over $17 million in flood recovery a smooth and successful one, according to Ladewig.

Loans approved in this final round included the following: Hoiland Mill Farm ($149,144), Johnson & James ($87,500 Category 2 ), George and Judy Graham ($63,840 Category 1-A), former Riverwood Restaurant ($180,625 plus $275,625 available as Category 1-A), Marlene Bellock for former Holle property ($68,624), Motor Parts and Equipment ($5,760), The Creamery ($32,153), Paul & Jenine Engrav ($12,500), Copely Reliable Pest Management ($12,000 Category 1-A), Butch Johnson ($41,158 Category 1-A), Becker Mini-Storage ($25,279 Category 2), Shawnee's Bar & Grill ($18,969).

In the end there were also requests from four businesses to be reimbursed for relocation costs, totaling approximately $150,000. The policy had been established not to reimburse relocation costs unless there was still funding remaining after all other loans were distributed; thus, Witt Drug Company, Witt Long Term Care Pharmacy, Rushford State Bank and Rushford Dental were all granted initial prorated funding, splitting the $15,000 left at the end of the loan process, for approximately one percent of their total requests. These amounts could be modified either up or down depending on funds ultimately distributed by next year's deadline of June 30, 2009.

Block reiterated the EDA's decision to "first and foremost take care of other needs (before relocation costs)" with the flood money. Councilman Larry Johnson affirmed that he thought it fair to make relocation cost requests a lower priority.

"What about those who couldn't relocate? We didn't reimburse for lost income," Johnson explained. "And some who did relocate never applied."

Another blessing-

Block informed the council of a piece of good luck in the form of a 100% grant from the DNR for a levee certification study. The city initially hoped for a 50/50 split grant to help with the $282,000, but now the entire cost will be covered, thanks to "the successful grant writing skills of Thomas Johnson, URS Corporation, and...the unique situation that Rushford finds itself in," according to Block's weekly newsletter.

"It appears we have been blest once again," Block wrote.

The mayor pointed out the sobering statistic of "20-27 levees that failed" in Iowa, according to recent news reports. Yet ironically, in the disastrous Rushford flood of 2007, the levees did not fail.

Still, they need to be repaired, a project beginning this summer, and recertification is vital to the economy of the area.

Creekside Park

One of the more emotional losses from the flood was the damage to the wooden play structure at Creekside Park, a source of community pride and a Rushford landmark for over fifteen years.

Phil Gaddis led an ad hoc group of interested citizens to examine future rehab of the park. A report last fall suggested that much of the structure could be saved and rebuilt, but the ad hoc group reported that new issues and continued corrosion of the materials was discovered in the recent analysis and the group recommends dismantling and disposing of the existing playground.

Gaddis said that the group hopes to save portions of the structure for sentimental reasons, for example the cupolas might be used at the entrance and the "car," while deemed no longer safe for children to play on, might be used as a planter.

Peg Redalen, instrumental in the initial building of Creekside Park but not part of this recent group, spoke up and questioned how the structures could have gone from salvageable last fall to needing to be removed by June.

The mayor commented that it was not surprising given the fact that all over town, there are examples of continued progressive damage from the flood waters.

"There were things in that flood water more corrosive than any of us wants to think about," the mayor said.

Redalen urged the council to "think green" when it came time to choose materials for the new Creekside structure, to once again make it a project for the entire community, and to remember that the uniqueness of the original Creekside structure was what made it so memorable as a Rushford landmark.

The council and Gaddis all expressed agreement with Redalen's sentiments.

Clinic

A lot of question marks continue to surround the future of Winona Health in Rushford, most recently with the news of two key staff members' resignations: Linda Runstrom and Dr. Scudeiro, according to Block.

Meanwhile, there is no definite news about when, where and whether Winona Health plans to rebuild a clinic in Rushford, though it has been widely assumed the clinic would go into the former Rushford Hardware space.

Both Johnson and Nancy Benson urged Block to contact Winona Health to ask about specific future plans.

Block agreed and said he would consider inviting representatives from Winona Health to make a presentation at the next council meeting.

RinTek report

Both Dan Fox and Kevin Klungdvedt from RinTek were present, and near the end of the meeting, Ladewig asked whether Fox would like to give an impromptu report about the company's status.

Fox complied and said enough equipment has been acquired for the group to begin producing sample materials as early as August. Potential customers are asking for samples, Fox said.

Fox reported that he attended a recent international conference in the Netherlands where he discovered a lot of interest in what's happening in Rushford, which added to his optimism about the company's product.

"Things are looking pretty good," he concluded.

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