Flood-damaged Zumbro Falls houses coming down, hopes rising
ZUMBRO FALLS — Zumbro Falls won't commemorate the second anniversary of the devastating Sept. 23, 2010, flood because not much has changed since a year ago when the town, and nearby Jarrett and Hammond, celebrated their very survival.
But wait until 2013.
By then, Zumbro Falls Mayor Al Christenson expects big changes will be obvious in the towns and they will be able to celebrate not their survival but rebirth.
"We really should be able to show something with the town (that) we've reached the next stage," he said.
The first big sign of change will come the week of Sept. 11 when the first three of about 45 homes and businesses along the river — mostly in Zumbro Falls and Hammond — will be torn down. They were bought with state or federal money to avoid future flood impediments and so governments don't have to again help the owners rebuild, he said.
The Wabasha County Board on Tuesday gave final approval to the $621,800 contract with Fitzgerald Excavating of Goodhue to work on a total of 52 sites, including two that are owned by the county.
Christenson said all the work is to be done by May 5.
Another part of the project in his town is to rebuild a large ditch that can bring high waters around the town's dike and into the city's ballfield and other areas, he said. In nearly all the high waters in the past, water hasn't topped the dike (it's only happened five times) but did come into Zumbro Falls through the ditch, he said.
When homes and businesses are torn down and hauled away, the land will be turned over to the towns. They can't put anything on them that would impede a flood or be severely damaged by a flood, he said.
The town is losing residents because of all the houses destroyed, he said. Some people, however, bought empty houses outside the floodplain or atop the bluff at a development, he said. The population has dropped from 207 in the last census to about 175 now, he said.
That loss will leave the towns with extra green space. They are beginning to look at how to fill that, he said.
A revitalization committee for the towns is looking at alternatives, such as volleyball courts or places for those driving along the river to stop and relax, he said. It's also trying to get a full-service restaurant back in town because the town's one such restaurant was flooded out, he said.
Another group has already started to find a new brand for the whole valley so it can be marketed.
They want to get a Minnesota Design Team to come to the area to hear what experts in architecture, urban planning and other fields can suggest, Christenson said.