NISSWA - U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., met with a roundtable of Brainerd-area resort executives Thursday to hear how they were battling effects of the July 12 storm, and to publicly showcase the industry was "open for business."
In July, Gov. Mark Dayton and U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan, D-Minn., also visited the area to meet with resort owners and to emphasize the local tourism industry was back on track.
Klobuchar began the event by noting although there was a large amount of private damage, the public damage did not meet high thresholds for federal disaster funding.
However, she spent most of the meeting listening to the resort owners and chamber of commerce officials describe how their employees - and in some cases, even their guests - came together to help repair and rebuild after the July 12 supercell storm. Their storm stories would help arm Klobuchar for Senate floor speeches and other messaging to help the area, she said.
Mark Ronnei, general manager of Grand View Lodge in Nisswa, told of how his staff rallied around a young woman who had wanted to get married at the resort since she was 14 - but her wedding was scheduled the Saturday following the storm.
"That was our rallying cry, we were going to make that wedding work," he said.
The resort workers got the area resort's famed stair column cleaned up in time for it to be the wedding's centerpiece, Ronnei said.
Amid the inspiring storm stories, Ronnei said, there were also those who showed the dark side of the human spirit: he told Klobuchar of a cloud of unscrupulous contractors from across the country who descended on the area to take advantage of storm affected property owners' desperation. Price gougers were preying on those trying to clean up, he said.
"I've never seen this kind of blatant criminal activity - nearly criminal activity - in such a wide scale," he said. "It's wrong."
In response, Klobuchar said she would contact Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson on the issue.
Smaller resorts also got a voice at the roundtable. Keith Rice of Sandy Beach Resort said a regular customer drove hours simply to help clear debris for an entire work day for free. They've been handing out free firewood to guests, he said. The guests were so dedicated to staying at the resort that staff had to essentially force them to leave for their own safety, he said.
"We had to force them to leave," he said. "We had equipment going around, (we were) afraid somebody was going to get killed."
In addition to the gouging issue, Klobuchar said she would follow up on helping with difficulties in getting insurance reimbursement for storm damage, as well as continue to broadcast the resorts were open for business.
Thursday's roundtable was part of a working vacation Klobuchar was spending in the area with her husband John. The pair also planned to bike a portion of the Paul Bunyan State Trail.