Northland Flood Recovery Efforts for Individuals Have Ups/Downs

By KBJR News 1

November 23, 2012 Updated Nov 23, 2012 at 4:40 PM CDT

Thomson, MN (NNC NOW) - Thomson resident Alan Johnson remembers that fateful day in June when he and his wife Linda had to be carried away via helicopter from the raging rapids that swept through their yard, and destroyed everything in its path.

Now, five months later, open signs and fresh gravel along Vermillion Street remind Johnson of the progress that's been made, but piles of lumber and a gutted kitchen represent the work load that remains.

Johnson is just one of many Northlanders who suffered significant household damage in June. In all, 1,000 homeowners suffered 10–50% damage, almost 500 suffered over 50% damage—242 in Duluth, alone—and 70 suffered a total loss; the vast majority of which in Carlton County.

All who suffered damages that weren't covered by insurance were encouraged to seek recovery funds, starting with low–interest loans from the Small Business administration, which Johnson did.

"They were quick, they were efficient, they were out here—very helpful. And, [they] called me and approved me for my loan," said Johnson.

...which meant Johnson could've joined the ranks of over 80 people who have been approved in Carlton County for an SBA loan since November 12th. In all, over 250 SBA loans have been approved; close to 400 have been denied.

But there was a problem. The almost $400 SBA loan monthly payment plan was too much for Johnson: "I didn't feel I could afford it, so I just didn't want to take out a loan for the stuff I have."

The next step for those who have been denied has been the Quick Start loan option—a 10 year, forgivable loan with an new cap set at $40,000, that also requires a denial from the SBA. While counties surrounding St. Louis County have hardly seen any closed Quick Start loans, the city of Duluth alone has seen 38 loan closings—over half of the 62 closed loan total.

Carlton County's Special Projects and Long–Term Recovery Manager, Drew Digby, says he knows why.

"The beauty in Duluth is that the agencies really, really work together, and they had that generous gift from the Ordean Foundation that really got everyone there jumpstarted," said Digby.

And, while the geography of the region has left resources spread thinner along Carlton, Pine, and Aitkin County, Lutheran Social Services Case Manager Kristi Skelton—who works with individuals on the road to recovery on a one–on–one basis—says a different mentality also exists among these counties' rural residents.

"The smaller communities, I think, have band together incredibly, and helped each other out. So, sometimes it's hard to remember that there's other help out there, and [it's] a little more difficult to ask for the assistance from the larger organizations," said Skelton.

But, according to Regional Reconstruction Manager, Dean Minardi, it's that mentality that can make all the difference looking forward.

"Really, we're at the crossroads where we really need more volunteers of all skill sets—from demolition all the way to skilled professions... either roofers, drywall–ers, electricians—that type of need," said Minardi.

As for Johnson, who can't obtain a Quick Start loan without an SBA denial—not an approval—while others sit down for Thursday's turkey dinner, it's back to work for him on Thanksgiving.

"We'll get it done, and just take it as we can afford it," said Johnson.

A flood recovery event for affected individuals will be held this Sunday, at the Hope Lutheran Church, in Moose Lake, from 4 to 6 PM.

Everything from flood resources, food, music, and Christmas decorations will be available.