When the folks in Henderson look out at the frozen landscape, they see a threat.
Those in the Minnesota River town know that when winter gives way to a spring thaw, the waterways will spill over and the roads into town probably will have to close.
Long detours keep business away from main street, force residents to spend more money to commute and keep students on the bus longer as they trek to the consolidated district's schools in Henderson and neighboring Le Sueur.
A 10-minute ride to school can take almost an hour, said Henderson Mayor Paul Menne. To accommodate the longer commute last year, district officials shortened the school day at the Henderson school for at least two weeks during an extended flood season, he said.
"It adds to transportation costs and takes away school time," Menne said.
And that has him and other residents fearing the district may close and not replace its only public school in Henderson, where about 1,000 people live, compared to 4,000 people in Le Sueur.
"If you close our school, you fundamentally change the future of our community," Menne said. "It's one of the first signs that a town is going to be in decline."
Currently, district students in prekindergarten through third grade attend school in Le Sueur. So do students in sixth through 12th grade. Fourth- and fifth-grade students attend school in Henderson. A charter school that serves 20 communities is also located in Henderson.
This year, school officials are considering options to upgrade their facilities. One is to build a new school for prekindergarten through third grade in Le Sueur and build or add on to the Henderson school, said Erina Prom, school board vice chair.
Another option is to build a consolidated elementary school for kindergarten through fifth grade. If that happens, Henderson officials want it in their town and have offered the school district financial incentives. But they also believe they need to remedy the perennial flooding issues to be in the running.
"If [state lawmakers] don't want to fix the road and Le Sueur parents don't want to send their kids around the flooding, then they'll close the school [in Henderson]," Menne said.
That makes Henderson's request for $16.5 million in state money to mitigate flooding along Hwy. 93 — the main road south of Le Sueur — even more important, he said.
The plan presented to legislators last fall and supported by the school district would raise a 3.4-mile section as much as 7 feet to keep it above most floodwaters. Sibley County officials have asked for $18.6 million to raise parts of County Road 6 north of Henderson.
"Henderson has been receiving way more water in the last 10 years," said county Public Works Director Tim Becker. "The roads have been under water significantly more than ever compared to the past."
Menne, who has lived in Henderson for a decade, said flooding often closes three of the four routes into town for weeks. Last year, the roads north, south and east of town were closed for 62 days.
"The only way in or out of town is to the west," Menne said. Some years, mudslides shut down that road, he added. "It's really hard on families," he said.
Meanwhile, the town's tourism business falls off. Long detours during flood season often dissuade people from coming, including the thousands of classic car enthusiasts who roll into town on Tuesdays throughout the summer, Menne said.
"When people aren't here, they're not spending money," he said. That's really hard for our business owners."
Mary Lynn Smith • 612-673-4788