Audrey Kletscher Helbling
HOW DOES A DEVASTATING flash flood change you and the place you call home?
I posed those and other questions to Tina Mann from Hammond, a southeastern Minnesota community ravaged last September by the overflowing waters of the Zumbro River. A year later, what is life like in Hammond for residents such as Tina, now a member of the Hammond City Council?
Here, in her words, are Tina’s reflections one day before the one-year anniversary of the flood which left her and her family living in three hotels and a rental house for three months before they could return to their Hammond home.
How has Hammond/life in Hammond changed since the flood?
Hammond is a lot quieter now. A lot of our long time residents have left, and a lot of our regular crowd has been sporadic. But, they are slowly starting to trickle back in.
Hammond has made some new friends along the way, and we see some of them come back down from time to time, too. I predict, though, that as winter draws close, that it may taper off. I think we may be in for another very quiet Hammond winter. There are fewer children, too, which makes it hard for the few that are still here. I hope that sometime down the line, Hammond will start to see more families coming down here.
What still needs to be done in terms of recovery in your community? Be specific.
For the most part, weather permitting, the city should be done with the municipal repairs by the end of the month. We were able to get the park building repaired and fully restored.
On the residential end, however, things are different. FEMA and the State funded the programs to repair the Municipality of Hammond and, with some careful planning and negotiating, we were able to come very close to a pre-flood state.
But the residents did not get any FEMA aid at all. Some only qualified for a state grant, which just barely covered expenses to repair their homes. Some qualified for low-interest loans and depending on the amount of damage to the home, they may have been able to replace a few of their possessions. But without FEMA funding, most people were not compensated for their personal belongings and it may well be many years before they feel they are ‘recovered.’
Then there are those still waiting for their buy-outs. The residents on the state program have begun receiving their offers, but are still in the ‘red tape’ part of the process and have not received any funding yet, and those on the federal list (50 percent or more damage, in flood way and flood plain) have been put on hold by the federal government, and no one knows how long that is going to take.
Do you need additional funding for Hammond recovery projects? Volunteers still needed? I‘m wondering how that park rebuilding is going.
The ‘city’ is pretty well rebuilt and I am happy to say that we no longer need volunteers unless we decide to start some new projects.
Financially, however, we are still trying to find ways to compensate for some shortfalls. There are city employees that have not been compensated for personal expenses, such as cell phone overages, incurred while working for the city during the immediate aftermath. Although it is realized that it is a responsibility of your position, we also feel that if we can find a way to do it, it really is the right thing to do.
We also have employees who worked well beyond the normal scope of their position and they really do deserve compensation for their time, services, and personal expenditures. Although most of them haven’t asked for it, it still would be nice if somehow we could work it out. These people did a phenomenal job taking care of our city!
And we have the future to look at, too. We are probably going to loose 6-8 residential properties to the 100 percent buy-outs. There are another 10 or so on the 50/50 buy-out list And those who choose the 50/50 but do not rebuild, of course their property value will decrease dramatically.
This is going to have financial consequences to our tax base, which is going to result in higher property tax and water and sewer bills for every business and property owner in Hammond.
And we need to take a look at what we are going to do with all of the new green space in town. When we lose the residents to the 100 percent buy-outs, those properties become ‘green space’ by law. That means that the lots become city property that cannot have permanent structures built on them. Many of these lots are centrally located in the middle of a residential area. The city is going to be moving into phase two of the recovery, which is the long-term aspect…and we do have a lot of things to think about and consider.
Is there a sense of frustration about anything or are things going well?
Yes, there has been, and is, a lot of frustration. It has been a very long, hard process trying to filter through the red tape to realize what is the ‘city’s’ responsibility, what is the ‘residents’” responsibility, and what programs are responsible for what.
A lot of phone calls from residents, confused about who they should be speaking to. Frustration because the process is very slow. The city has very few answers for the residents who are working with the buy-out program and it’s been hard to convey the message that the city has nothing to do with that part of it and we really have no answers for them. All we can do is direct them back to the agencies they are working with.
We have lawns that are not being mowed, properties that have been abandoned since the flood. The residents that have rebuilt are frustrated because the ‘clean-up’ won’t be complete until these issues are resolved, and we don’t know how long it is going to take.
Our city is coming together, but we really are still a long way from being back to normal.
What was the biggest single impact of the flood on you emotionally? Did it change you in any way?
Watching the hurricanes and flooding in the east was really hard and I realized that my emotions are still very raw. I could not control my weeping as I watched the news and saw the devastation in the eyes of those people. I know how that feels, I’ve been there….. It still hurts very much. I doubt that feeling is ever going to go away.
Becoming involved with the city on the council has opened my eyes to a lot, and yes, it has changed me. This flood and the impact it is going to continue to have on this area for years to come is bigger than what the eye can see. We are going to be dealing with this for a long time.
On a personal level, I am dealing with the impact by being involved with the revolution of Hammond. I have been very busy planning the Anniversary Party (set for Saturday, September 24) and working on the council ‘learning the ropes’. I plan to be involved in finding the solutions to the challenges that are before us, and help guide Hammond into the future.
THANK YOU, TINA, for sharing your thoughts. You have always been open and honest, never holding back, and I appreciate that. We can all learn a thing or 10 from you about the strength of the human spirit and the strength of community.
READERS, PLEASE CHECK BACK for another post featuring thoughts from Hammond resident Katie Shones.