Baptism by fire for new city administrator

A STEADY STREAM of vehicles with more garbage in tow filed into the debris collection site Thursday — nine days after the flood.

By Per Peterson

It started with a simple, Tuesday morning phone call from Tracy Police Chief Jason Lichty to new City Administrator Kris Ambuehl.

“He asked me if I knew what was going on in town,” Ambuehl said. “I said, ‘No.’ He said, ‘Well, I’m coming to pick you up.’ He said half the town’s under water; public works is setting up pumps to start relieving the sanitary systems.”

Just a week-plus into his new position, Ambuehl was thrown into the deep end. Not even totally settled into his new office, he found himself out in the field doing work that most in his position could never imagine doing in 30 years. But it was work that’s right up his alley.

“I have a disaster emergency management background, so I started on kind of the office portion of it,” he said. “I started contacting my sources, trying to decide how we’re going to move forward.”

Ambuehl’s background in dealing with emergencies proved helpful right off the bat. On Tuesday morning, he found himself working with a couple firemen fixing one of the military pumps that wasn’t running because of issues with the fuel system.

Tracy’s was actually the third flood Ambuehl has fought. He fought major flooding in Fargo in 1997 and 2010, as a member of the Army National Guard. He also did sandbagging in Ada, Halstad and Hendrum in 1999 to fight overland flooding.

“Have I dealt with it? Yah,” he said. “We were pulling people out of their homes … “

About the only thing that kept Ambuehl from helping out in the field more last week was his general lack of knowledge of Tracy’s streets. He helped fix pumps, and he helped pull the Sara Lee bread truck out of the ditch at Food Pride.

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Ambuehl is glad he could put his background and past experiences in the field to good use.

“It’s nice to prove to people you’re here to help,” he said.

And not only was he able to put his expertise to good use, he learned a thing or two about the people he is surrounded by.

“There was not one person that excelled over another,” he said. “This was the most unbelievable group effort I’ve ever seen,” he said. “I’ve been a part of some pretty big floods and other disasters — I’ve never seen a group of people come together like the City of Tracy did. It was unbelievable. Firemen, the police, people from other communities, Chief Lichty, Dale Johnson, city works guys, their part-time help, the office staff here … just the genuine concern to help people.”

Ambeuhl said he was overly impressed with the debris management site that was set up on Hwy 14.

“My contact at the MPCA, she couldn’t believe we had 198,000 pounds of material that left the city of Tracy on the first day,” he said. “That’s just debris. The MPCA thought that was a five-day total.”

For more on this article, see this week’s Headlight-Herald.