Gifford Awarded USDA Grant For Water System Improvements
By Sean Powers
Four months after a powerful tornado ripped through the Champaign County town of Gifford, the community is getting help from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to replace its water plant and water tower
The 50,000 gallon water tower was seriously damaged and the water plant was destroyed. The USDA is awarding the community two grants totaling $650,000 through its Emergency Community Water Assistance Grant (ECWAG) program.
Colleen Callahan heads the USDA’s rural development office in Illinois. She said the agency continues to communicate with other communities affected by the November storms to identify additional assistance.
“Immediately, Gifford knew that they needed help with their water,” Callahan said. “They came to us quickly and we had a program that could fit that need. In Washington, Illinois we’ve also been in regular contact with them. Washington is still identifying what some of their needs are, and we have programs that can assist with their business. We have programs that can assist with some of their community facilities needs as well.”
Gifford Mayor Derald Ackerman expects the water plant to be completed by this summer, and the water tower by the fall.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency previously denied public assistance to Gifford and other communities affected by the tornados, but the state has stepped in with additional support.
Meanwhile, a group of about 40 college students from St. Olaf College in Minnesota is spending their spring break helping out Gifford. Gifford resident Christina Gann is working with them, giving out supplies, like rakes, shovels, and barrels.
“They called us in early January, and said, ‘Could we come here for spring break? We want to make a different for Gifford,’” Gann explained. “Initially, they’re raking and picking up debris out of the yards of the town. We’re doing every yard unless somebody calls and says they don’t want it done.”
Andrew Fuglestad, 22, a student at St. Olaf, said each year students at his school go to a community for spring break that has been devastated a natural disaster. He previously went to Birmingham, Ala., which was hit by a tornado in 2011. Fuglestad said he is glad to be in Gifford this week.
“For me, it’s the satisfaction of knowing that I’ve done something good for my spring break,” Fuglestad said. “My time has been constructive, and I leave knowing that people are in a better state than when I was here.”
Fuglestad said 80 more students from St. Olaf College are in Washington, Illinois for the week, helping that community cleanup from an even more powerful storm than the one in Gifford.