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Des Moines River crests in Jackson; visiting political leaders pledge support

Park equipment in Jackson's Ashley Park sits in a pool of Des Moines River water. (Alyssa Sobotka / The Globe)1 / 5
The Des Moines River spills into the Jackson ballpark. (Alyssa Sobotka / The Globe)2 / 5
A barricade and pumps prevent floodwater from entering Jackson's downtown near First and Bailey streets. (Alyssa Sobotka / The Globe)3 / 5
Gov. Mark Dayton pledges his support to Jackson and surrounding communities affected by the Des Moines River flooding. (Alyssa Sobotka / The Globe)4 / 5
A concrete/sand barricade prevents floodwaters from the Des Moines River from entering downtown Jackson. (Alyssa Sobotka / The Globe)5 / 5

JACKSON – Rapid currents, whirlpool culverts and baseball fields and park equipment swimming in a pool of river water.

The Monday scene in Jackson is similar to that of other southwest Minnesota communities drenched since multiple significant rainfall events upstream of the Des Moines River caused what’s expected to be millions of dollars in damages.

The Des Moines River crested in Jackson at approximately 13.9 feet overnight Sunday into Monday and has begun to recede. However, Jackson officials think that tally is skewed.

“Since they took the dam out, they’ve moved the sensor probably two to three times,” Jackson Street Superintendent Phil Markman said of the possible discrepancy, since water levels were calculated during the last significant flooding event in 2010. “We’re flirting with the 17-foot range.”

The highest water level on record from 2010 is 16.97 feet.

Today, river water rushes underneath the U.S. 71, River Street and Ashley Street bridges at about the same level since 2010. Those structures have been unchanged, which is one example why Markman believes the tally is inaccurate by approximately 3 feet.

Politicians and emergency response teams that visited Jackson on Monday would like to see that discrepancy corrected, as they prepare to advocate for financial disaster assistance from state and federal resources.

Among political leaders that visited Windom, Jackson and Blue Earth Monday included Gov. Mark Dayton, U.S. Rep. Tim Walz, Minnesota Sen. Julie Rosen, District 22A Rep. Bob Gunther and District 22B Rep. Rod Hamilton. Minnesota Department of Agriculture Commissioner Dave Frederickson, Homeland Security and Emergency management Director Joe Kelly and staff members from the offices of U.S. Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith were also present.  

The synonymous message from the panel of politicians was that Jackson public works personnel and first responders left a positive impression, as they were well prepared for the flood event.

“It’s wonderful to see the human spirit rise in this sort of emergency,” Dayton said.

As of Monday, Jackson County Emergency Manager Tawn Hall estimated flood damage had reached $430,000 throughout the county.

“I’d conservatively say it’ll be at $750,000,” she added.

Damage throughout the city was most visible at city parks, including Ashley Park, Dann’s Island Wayside Park, and softball fields and amenities wading in a pool of water. Damages in city parks was estimated between $5,000 and $7,000, Jackson Mayor Wayne Walter said.

A concrete and sand barricade on First Street near the ballpark is all that separated the floodwaters from the ballpark to downtown Jackson, Jackson County Sheriff Shawn Haken said.

Assuming there’s no other significant rain event ceases for some time in Jackson and upstream, the downtown should be void of flood damage, Haken said.

Markman said as of Monday there had been minimal damage reported to residences and no known sewer backups.

The city’s wastewater treatment was working overtime, as 2.4 million gallons traveled through the lift station pumps daily. That’s compared to about 600,000 gallons typically, said Jackson Water/Wastewater Superintendent Tony Oxborough.

The flood — which Haken guessed would be second to the Des Moines River flood event of 1969 — enlightened public works personnel to infrastructure that would provide relief or better assistance in the event of another flood.

“We would like to look at some slide gates at the lowest part of town,” Markman said, explaining the gates would reduce the pressure on a plug he and his crew had to wade in murky water and attempt to place.

Markman explained the plug as the “little Dutch Boy” holding the water back from flooding downtown.

“They’re looking at expanding Memorial Park, and I would like to not have us waste our money building this beautiful park and worrying about it flooding every spring,” he said about the necessity of infrastructure improvements.

Kelly anticipated that representatives from Federal Emergency Management Agency would visit southwest Minnesota near the end of next week to complete a preliminary assessment of damages.

Kelly and other representatives present Monday pleaded that local officials — with the help from residents — document and photograph all damage related to flooding.

Kelly explained that as of Monday, it was unknown the most appropriate and best avenue to request flood assistance, but that the public would play a crucial role by reporting damages to local officials.

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