PACIFIC JUNCTION – Gov. Terry Branstad visited Mills County Wednesday afternoon to assess Missouri River flood damage and get a personal look at the flood prevention efforts being carried out by local governmental agencies, homeowners and private businesses.
Speaking outside the now vacated and berm-protected A&M Greenpower John Deere dealership west of Interstate 29 near the Highway 34 interchange, Branstad said he’s impressed by efforts being made in the six counties on the Iowa side of the Missouri River that have been affected by the high waters over the past five weeks.
"You look around here and see the levee they built (here at A&M Greenpower). I went down and looked at where the railroad raised their track considerably. There’s a lot of work that’s been done to try to prevent substantial damage," Branstad said. "There’s also a lot of crop damage and a lot a homes and businesses that have been adversely affected. I want to make sure we’re doing all we can at the state level and also getting all the federal assistance we can."
Branstad said his visit to Mills County was not only a fact-finding tour, but also an opportunity to hear the concerns of Iowans on the front line of the flood-fighting mission.
"It’s important for the governor to reassure people that the state is aware of their plight and the problems they’re facing," he said. "It gives them a chance to share with me some of the concerns they have. Also, it’s an opportunity for me to get a first-hand look and have first-hand knowledge of the situation when I try to get federal assistance."
Branstad said he’s assessed major flooding across the state many times as Iowa’s governor during his 16-plus years in office, but this year’s conditions are the worst he’s viewed along the Missouri River.
"I’ve been to Pacific Junction before, but this is the worst we’ve seen here in the Missouri River area," Branstad said. "I was governor when we had the flood in Des Moines and lost the water works. That was really a bad situation. We’ve had bad floods, but this is the worst here.
"The thing that’s so different about this is usually when you have a flood, you have it and within a week or 10 days it’s gone down and you’re into a clean-up. In this case, we’re still in a flood fight. We have been for over a month and it’s going to last maybe a couple more."
Branstad noted the long-term financial impact the summer’s flooding would have on businesses, farmers and homeowners in western Iowa.
"The biggest concern is the length of this and how long it’s going to take – the business interruption," Branstad said. "This business right here (A&M Greenpower). They moved into this brand new John Deere dealership (last year). They had to move everything out. – that’s a big expense. They’ll move things back, hopefully, in the future. In the meantime, you have this business interruption that goes on for months. That’s true with a lot of businesses along Interstate 29.
"Also, the roads are closed and obviously a lot of people have been displaced from their homes. Farmers have lost substantial crops."
Branstad believes after the flood waters have subsided and the clean-up has been completed, a comprehensive review should be conducted on the aging levee systems in western Iowa and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ management practices of the Missouri River. Flood control on the river should by the corps’ No. 1 priority, he said.
The governor said he’s proud of the local efforts being carried out throughout western Iowa to minimize damage. He also warned that western Iowans are in for a long fight this summer.
"I’ve talked with Gov. (Brian) Schweitzer of Montana and he was telling some areas of that Missouri River basin in Montana got 380 percent of the normal snowfall. I talked to him two weeks ago and they still had 5 or 6 feet of snow over 6,000 feet elevation," Branstad said. "Of course, 70 percent of the flow from the Missouri River comes from the snow melt in Montana. That tells us we’ve got many, many more weeks and even months to deal with the extremely high flows."