Lawmakers will gather in St. Paul Thursday for a special legislative session to pass a package of flood aid for northwestern Minnesota. The Ventura administration and legislative leaders agreed last week to spend more than $32 million on flood relief. It includes payments to businesses, homeowners and farmers in 19 counties. Roseau County was one of the hardest hit by summer flooding. People there are relieved state help could soon be on the way.
There's a grandfather clock in the lobby of Citizens State Bank in downtown Roseau. It looks oddly out of place because the bank looks more like a warehouse. Tellers stand at a makeshift counter wrapped in plastic. Desks sit out in the open. Electrical cords criss-cross dusty cement floors.
"You can see here is where the walls were," said Stuart McFarlane, the bank's consumer loan officer. "There's no floor coverings, basically no walls, wires and lights and stuff hanging from the ceiling. It doesn't look very good right now."
Damage to the bank totals more than $1 million. Back in June, the Roseau River overflowed its banks. Flood waters hit dozens of other businesses. But for many, repair money has already run out. McFarlane says there are still nearly 20 businesses downtown that have not reopened.
"Everybody did what they could for many of the stores to get open and to try to get back in business, but we kind of ran out of resources," he said. "Got as far as we could. And with winter coming on and cold weather, everybody's been anticipating the next step, and it's just been frustrating waiting for the governor to finally agree to this special session."
Some downtown businesses got help from the federal government to reopen their doors. Clothing store owner Sherry Losse was in rented space when the flood hit. Her landlord was slow to fix the damages. When she and her employees began getting sick from the mold, she decided to move.
Losse got a loan from the Small Business Administration and bought her own downtown building. She just reopened her doors last week. Losse says people in Roseau are happy about the special session this week. But they're angry Gov. Ventura refused to call one sooner.
"They felt that he was on his way out and he didn't care about us," Losse said. "Everybody says the same. If this would have happened in the (Twin)Cities, they would have had help right now. But we're up north, and they kind of forget about us up here."
Financial uncertainty has been hard on homeowners in Roseau. Nearly all the houses in town were damaged by flood waters. About 35 homes will have to be demolished. The Federal Emergency Management Agency has 74 trailer sites that will be ready for long term occupation by the end of the month. Sixty-five families are still living in campers parked in their front yards.
Tim Erickson owns a home on the Roseau River. His daughter still lives in a FEMA camper, waiting for repairs on her basement bedroom. Flood insurance covered part of his losses. He's afraid to put any more money into repairs. He's not sure how changes to the city dike will affect his plans. And he's still waiting to see what legislators will do on Thursday.
"The lack of information right now as far as what they plan on doing, that's going to be the, we're just waiting and seeing," said Erickson. "We're all grateful for it and we hope it will help, but I guess I don't know exactly to what extent that's going to apply to the individuals."
Farmers in northwest Minnesota were also hit hard. In Roseau County, about half of this year's crop was damaged. Mike Rudebusch manages a grain elevator in downtown Roseau. He says what farmers need most is a season or two of good weather.
"Mother Nature has to cooperate for Roseau County to continue to survive agriculturally," Rudebusch said. "We need to get a crop, more than the prices, or anything... Hopefully, and Lord willing, we'll be able to get some sunshine during the right times. And deservingly so."
The state will have to borrow most of the $32 million in state flood aid. The package will target Roseau, Mahnomen, Ada, Warroad and other communities hit hard by heavy rains in June.More from MPR