The Minnesota Phoenix Award for Outstanding Contributions to Disaster Recovery by the U.S. Small Business Administration is presented to a private citizen, volunteer, and a public official who has made an outstanding contribution to a community’s recovery following a natural disaster which occurred in the previous fiscal year. UMD alumnus and Duluth mayor Don Ness (‘97) is one of this year’s recipients due to his recovery efforts after the “500 year storm” of 2012. Ness will be honored at the Minnesota Small Business Week Awards program on May 6, 2013, at the Depot Minneapolis.
Elaine Hansen, Director of the Northeast Minnesota Small Business Development Center, nominated Ness for the award.
Ness’ lifelong compassion for his community and his experience in public service provided the leadership needed to see Duluth through this unexpected event. The record flooding caused well over $100 million in damage throughout the city of Duluth. Ness understood his role and represented the City of Duluth and the surrounding communities particularly well during this time of need.
“I think it’s something that we as a community can grow on and can take pride in especially once the recovery efforts are complete,” Ness said.
Because of the topography, the 8-to-12 inch rainfall not only caused flooding, but swollen and overflowing lakes and ponds with normally trickling streams and creeks became raging rivers removing everything in the way. Roads and bridges were washed out leaving victims stranded in their vehicles and their homes. Infamously, the polar bear and seal in the Lake Superior Zoo were picked up and swept out of their exhibits: the seal down to Grand Avenue and the polar bear to another part of the zoo property. Who could forget the picture of Sandy the Seal found on Grand Avenue circulating around national news headlines?
Along the St. Louis River, homes were flooded, destroyed and washed away. Considerable damage was done to the streets, parks, sidewalks, and other segments of the city’s infrastructure, which require new engineering and repairs that have yet to be underway. The two days in June 2012 changed the landscape of the city, but with the leadership of Ness, the response was quick and many repairs were started immediately.
“If 2012 was the year of the flood, 2013 will be the year of flood recovery,” Ness said.
Ness has raised millions of dollars to help rebuild Duluth and surrounding communities in addition to the FEMA and SBA assistance. Duluth, as it has in the past, will rebuild and succeed.
As the mayor, Don Ness is expected to be a central figure in an emergency. However, in this situation, he became a prominent leader, organizer and collaborator not only for the community, but for neighboring communities as well. He provided direction, comfort, and straightforward, clear communication to flood victims, the public and other political leaders. The city then responded quickly and positively to the disaster clean-up efforts and the necessary long-term repairs and replacements.
Ness brought the plights of the City to state and federal agencies to make sure that a clear picture of the destruction was presented and the damage assessments were documented so all of the applicable resources could be provided and utilized.
“I think looking back the flood was the biggest challenge and the biggest highlight for us in 2012,” said Ness.
It was a crisis many were not prepared for, but through the recovery efforts, it proved how well the community could work together and make the city as a whole stronger.
Want to take a trip down memory lane back to the Flood of June 2012? Here are 10 jaw-dropping photos from the infamous event in Duluth’s history.