Cravaack given the grand tour
U.S. Congressman Chip Cravaack, R-8th District, visited Wadena on Thursday, Feb. 24, stopping at the WDC elementary school and meeting community leaders at the city council chambers.
Representatives from the school, city government, county government and nonprofit organizations attended the meet-and-greet.
Cravaack is the newly elected representative after defeating longtime incumbent Jim Oberstar in November.
A slide show illustrated damage from the June 17 tornado in Wadena, and WDC Schools Superintendent Virginia Dahlstrom narrated major events in the ongoing recovery and plans after the loss of the high school building.
Mayor Wayne Wolden brought up transportation issues which had been discussed when Jim Oberstar had toured Wadena in late August.
Wolden talked about businesses lost on the U.S. Highway 10 corridor and the possibility of expanding that area to four lanes, something which he said had been talked about since the 1950s. Wadena is the only two-lane section of U.S. Highway 10 in the state.
He also brought up the rail spur needed for the relocated Leaf River Ag.
"We want to see them off of that site next to the school, which is happening, but we're in need of an upgrade and expansion of the spur to get the fertilizer out to the industrial park," Wolden said. "We're working with the Federal Railroad Administration."
Wolden said there was another spur which needed an upgrade.
"We'll take a look at Peterson Biddick property. We have a food-based manufacturer looking at coming to town that needs the spur, and we need to upgrade that spur," he said.
Cravaack told the Pioneer Journal that the future of U.S. Highway 10 and the rail spur depends on what can be afforded.
"I know Tom Sorel from MnDOT is taking a look at it as well," he said. "So [I'll] be working with him and I've called him on several occasions, and to see what's needed and what we can afford. That's the bottom line."
City Administrator Brad Swenson talked about the loss of houses and losing the swimming pool, park shelters and other recreational facilities.
"Our biggest loss citywide was probably our electrical system," he said. "Our crews and other crews from around the area came in and were able to restore power in a few days, built temporary lines so we're now in the process of planning to rebuild."
County Commissioner Lane Waldahl talked about the loss of the fairgrounds.
"The fair did continue. They used tents and whatever they could get their hands on," he said. "Keep Wadena and the county in your thoughts."
County Board Chairman Bill Stearns talked about the old Wadena airport being used as a collection site for tornado debris.
"Tornadoes don't help people's economic vitality," Del Moen, chair of the Long Term Recovery Committee, said.
He said that spring will be tough for affected farmers who need money to plant and have already taken out loans.
Many affected rural properties are in Otter Tail County, which is outside Cravaack's district.
"How they recover affects this county too," Moen said.
Wolden brought up the wellness center project to replace the lost community center and swimming pool.
Before the meet-and-greet, Cravaack visited kids at the elementary school.
"I've loved the kids at the school," Cravaack told the Pioneer Journal. "We read a book called 'House Mouse Senate Mouse' to them. It was a third grade class and we actually talked about the tornado .... Each one of them had a story, and they wanted to share that story with us."
Following the meet-and-greet, Cravaack had a short tour of Wadena.
Cravaack told the Pioneer Journal, "What impresses me is the people, how the people come together and just made a miraculous recovery in the city."
He also talked about memories of a tornado hitting his own childhood hometown of Madeira, Ohio.
"I remember going around in my little orange vest and little hard hat and I'd be picking up trash, and our town did the same thing," he said. "We all came together as a town, people that had chain saws just got out and started cutting trees, and people that had trucks, they started hauling stuff out."