Tornado shelter for southeastern Albert Lea stalled, waiting on funding

Published 1:16 pm Friday, March 10, 2023

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Plans for an emergency shelter for residents living in mobile home parks or houses without basements in southeastern Albert Lea are on hold as the project continues to wait on funding, Freeborn County officials said this week.

Former 5th District Commissioner Mike Lee asked for an update on the project during the open forum period of the Tuesday Freeborn County Board of Commissioners meeting.

The emergency shelter is proposed to be built at Sondergaard Park, which borders Gene Street on the west and south, Interstate Molding & Manufacturing and Myers Road on the north and Hot-Line Freight System on the east. The structure would be required to withstand an EF3 tornado.

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Freeborn County Administrator Candace Pesch said she and Emergency Management Director Rich Hall and others from the city met with the state hazard mitigation officer earlier this year.

“It’s a funding issue at this point,” Pesch said, noting that the funding in the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program has been more focused on flooding mitigation projects.

The city and county in the fall had applied for funding for the project through the program, which provides grants to states and local governments to implement long-term hazard mitigation measures after a major disaster declaration. The purpose of the funds is to reduce the loss of life and property due to natural disasters, according to the program website.

If the city and county are approved for the grant, 75% of the costs of the project would be paid for through FEMA funds disbursed through the state, and the city and county would split 25% of the cost, Hall said in the fall. He said the local share could include in-kind labor and land value.

He said the state normally has $5 million allotted through the program to give out in grants but last year only received $1 millio.

Most of the projects that were approved for grants were buyouts in flooded areas instead of shelters at this time.

“We’re still going to push forward with it,” Hall said.

Lee said he doesn’t want the project to be forgotten and said he thinks it is something that needs to be done soon before there is a tornado that affects that part of town.

“We have a shovel ready project,” Hall said. “As soon as funding becomes available we’re going to push again.”