Commissioners hear personal side of flood storyWhile matters of flood clean-up, debris removal and government aid continue to be an ongoing part of the Carlton County Board agenda, the personal side of the flood continues to be an overriding concern.
By: Wendy Johnson, Pine Journal
While matters of flood clean-up, debris removal and government aid continue to be an ongoing part of the Carlton County Board agenda, the personal side of the flood continues to be an overriding concern.
At their Monday adjourned session, board members heard from William Eknes of Moose Lake, who attended the meeting with his wife and daughter. Eknes said his house flooded to the point of becoming a total loss and his immediate goal is to have the remainder of the structure demolished and hauled away and then improve the lot to the degree necessary to either reuse or sell it. He said the work to bring the lot up to required standards is expected to cost them some $6,000. The cost of hauling away the debris from the remains of the house is likely to add another $3,500 in dumpster expenses.
“First they lost their home, and now they’re expected to be able to pay another $10,000,” said Eknes’ daughter. “They just don’t have that kind of money to spend.”
Added to the Eknes family’s burden is the fact they still owe a mortgage of some $10,000 on the house, and they haven’t been able to find out from their mortgager what the implications are regarding repayment when the house no longer exists.
Further, in order to build a new house on the lot, the bottom floor would have to be built at least three feet above the height of the flood of record, which would require building the lot up to that height.
And since the house dates back to 1913, there is some question if the lot would be buildable at all under today’s code restrictions.
Eknes requested the county consider reimbursing the cost of the demolition removal for their house. The board was hesitant to set a precedent that the county might not be able to sustain if those costs don’t prove to be reimbursable, but commissioners agreed that situations such as the Eckneses’ appear to be falling through the cracks when it comes to assistance.
Zoning and Environmental Services Director Heather Cunningham said only curbside debris pickup is considered to be reimbursable by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and only during the emergency phase of the cleanup. She mentioned the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has some avenues of financing available to flood victims, but much of it has numerous strings attached and she believes it is primarily aimed at residents forced to vacate buildings in designated flood plains, which was not the case with the Ekneses.
County Coordinator Dennis Genereau suggested the possibility of the city of Moose Lake covering some of the cost of the Ekneses’ debris removal, but Eknes said he’s been to “every Monday night flood meeting since they first started,” and the city suggested he go to the county for help.
Genereau also stated a countywide committee is forming to address the unmet needs of flood victims, but added his understanding is that the committee’s top priority will likely be on winterization of homes damaged by floods – also not something that would apply to the Ekneses’ situation.
“Most of the money out there is geared toward helping people stay in their homes,” Carlton County Flood Recovery Coordinator Drew Digby admitted. “This is one of those gaps in what’s available.”
Commissioner Marvin Bodie said his understanding is that last week’s special Flood Recovery legislation delegated $500,000 in grants to counties for debris removal and questioned if some of that could be tapped into in order to assist the Ekneses.
The board unanimously voted to table the request for assistance until further investigation into whether the cost of debris and structure removal would be reimbursable. Based on that information, the board may consider a policy for disposal of building debris removal in the future.
Commissioner Dick Brenner said there are many other flood issues still out in the county that are yet to be addressed. For example, one couple in their 80s whose home was damaged by flooding didn’t have the money or manpower to do anything about the flood-damaged materials still in their basement. Brenner said their situation had to be dealt with before winter, but they were at a loss as to just which direction to go to pay for that. Though their situation has since been dealt with, he said there are many others out there who haven’t yet reached out for help and urged anyone still in need to call the office of Emergency Management Director Brian Belich at the Carlton County Sheriff’s Office, 218-384-3236.
County Auditor/Treasurer Paul Gassert said he’s heard of empty houses in Cloquet, many either tax forfeited or having gone through foreclosure, that sustained flood damage that no one immediately knew about. He, too, suggested “there’s a lot more out there” when it comes to flood losses that have yet to be reported.