The charming town of Henderson, Minn., is overflowing with history and character. But the way water has flowed all around this Minnesota River city has caused a number of issues: Unusually wet weather spurred so much flooding that roads were completely submerged, leaving residents stuck on an isolated island.

“Number one, it’s a public safety issue, and number two, it’s an economic issue,” says Sen. Scott Newman. “It’s a cute little river town, but no retail can survive if you are closed for 20, 30, 40 days because you’re underwater.” The senator represents the area in the state Legislature and says that, while Henderson is small and therefore charming, the town has been something of a political orphan. Just about 900 people populate Henderson – and a number of them gathered when the Senate Capital Investment Committee came to town.

“It gives us a sense of the community. We have lots and lots of requests we go all over, as you know. Some places one or two presenting. This was the whole town, it seemed like. That tells us it’s important, and we listen harder,” says Sen. Dave Senjem, the Capital Investment Committee Chair who agrees that the town’s small size has made it harder for it to get state money. “You can get lost and finally they’re stepping up, letting us know this is important to them.”

This new bonding money request is for $20 million, $16 million in state bonding dollars for the Scenic Byway Highway 93 that intersects with 169 and is seeing floods increasing in duration and intensity. More than a dozen other flood-mitigation projects have already been funded nearby, but not yet in Henderson. Paul Menne, the town’s mayor, says, “Henderson is last on the list due to obvious reasons, due to size. [But] it’s high time and it’s ready.”

Local officials estimate that 93,000 vehicle hours and miles are traveled per day on Highway 93, which has taken the brunt of the flooding from the Minnesota and Rush Rivers. But this bonding project will have to compete with billions of dollars in requests.

Sen. Senjem says that requests total more than $5 billion, and he estimates that the Republican Senate bill will come in around $700 million to $1 billion. The Rochester resident knows that there are a lot of requests and a slew of needs for bonding money, which typically goes to construction projects and repairs with statewide significance. DFL House Capital Investment Chair Mary Murphy says that her bill will be big, at $3.5 billion.

Senjem says that’s too big. “The House will have its number, and we’ll bounce them back and forth, in terms of a conference committee. I hope before the last hour, last day [of the legislative session].”

When asked if the town’s bonding proposal has a good shot at being included in the bill, he replies, “Yes, I would say so. Maybe it’s Henderson’s turn.”

This story was published October 29, 2019.


Senator Dave Senjem originally hails from Hayfield, Minn., a town with a population of just 889 – and in high school, he participated in everything from sports to class plays. Get to know him in this “Back to School” story – an Almanac at the Capitol series that explores who legislators were before they held elected office.

Earlier this year, Saint Paul experiences a top 10 flood event as snow swiftly melted into the Mississippi. So Almanac’s David Gillette hiked down to the water’s edge to capture the state of affairs.

As One Greater Minnesota reporter Kaomi Goetz discovered, Moorhead, Minn., has also faced epic flooding issues over the years. But this year – one of the wettest on record – the city was prepared after investing $110 million in mitigation projects.