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Loans to Rushford businesses may not be enough

Fri, Aug 24th, 2007
Posted in Commentary

When asked early last week whether the recent rainfall was a 50 year or 100 year event, Fillmore County Engineer John Grindeland shrugged his shoulders.

"Who can conceive of 17 inches of rain?" Grindeland asked rhetorically.

Call it a forcé majeur, an act of God, maybe even a 500 year biblical event.

That no one was seriously injured or killed in the flooding in Rushford is due in large part to the courageous work of the Rushford Fire Department and other emergency personnel who monitored the levy on the north side of town and warned people in advance of the floodwaters breaching the dike. The fact that many of these same people had their own homes damaged in the flooding is a testimony to the fact that they put the welfare of the public before their own personal needs.

Many residents drove themselves to higher ground; about 300 others had to be rescued by boat. People left their homes with little more than the clothes on their back.

Mayor Les Ladewig put it succinctly when he said it was a miracle that Rushford did not have one casualty.

While many of us have been inconvenienced by the week-long rains, the people of Rushford have been dealing with a calamity that challenges their very existence.

The preliminary statistics provided by the county are staggering: 277 homes, 40 apartment units, 35 manufactured homes, 70 businesses and 4 churches damaged by flooding. The initial assessment of damages by the county was put at more than $6 million, which makes the city eligible for federal disaster relief. FEMA representatives were expected to be in Rushford on Thursday.

On Wednesday, when I was in Rushford to attend a press conference, the city was still without potable water, sewer, electricity, natural gas and phone service. Electricity was being restored in the city by sections and work was progressing on the wells to get water restored. Phone service was expected to be restored by Sunday.

The Red Cross was meeting essential needs of food, water and shelter. They served 1250 meals on Tuesday. Many people who had to take shelter at TRW on Sunday night are now living with family and friends. About 30 people slept at the shelter on Tuesday night.

The flooding left Rushford's downtown devastated and its economy in shambles. Practically no commerce has taken place in the city since Sunday, August 19, and many business owners are taking stock of their situation. Thousands of dollars of inventory have been lost, buildings are damaged and need to be cleaned and many people may be without jobs in the weeks to come.

There is no question that many residents and businesses will qualify for low interest federal disaster loans. But that may not be enough.

A business owner who already has a mortgage on inventory lost and a building damaged by flooding is going to take a strong hard look at whether or not to make the investment to rebuild, especially if it means adding more debt to their bottom line.

State Senator Sharon Ropes told me on Wednesday that she and Representative Ken Tschumper have asked the governor to call a special session so that bonding legislation can be drafted that would help Rushford, and other cities affected by the floods, rebuild their infrastructure. She also believes that cities and counties should be eligible to receive additional funds that can be used at their discretion as needed to fill those gaps not covered by state and federal funds.

It is imperative that attention is given to finding relief for businesses like those in Rushford, who may not be able to recover on their own. Every effort should be made by county, state and federal officials to find the necessary funds to offer outright grants to businesses that make the commitment to rebuild and employ people in Rushford.

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