“I don't have the money, I don't have the health,” said McGowan, who is nursing a heart condition. He also pours about $10,000 of his own money to subsidize the activities at the farm each year. Some groups make donations to help him cover costs, but others do not. In addition to annual activities costs, he's footed the bill for nearly every structure — the cabin, the saloon, all the picnic shelters, everything.
He says he won't pay for any improvements and he's not healthy enough to do the labor. Sandquist said the county has offered to resume the sending of people on probation to the farm to complete terms of their criminal sentences. McGowan for decades had been using probationers on the farm, and many of them helped build the current McGowan's experience.
But when the county discovered his land wasn't in compliance with flood plain rules, they pulled the probation people.
The county, while not commenting on McGowan's case specifically, said they find themselves in a tough spot sometimes when it comes to enforcing ordinances.
They need to enforce them fairly and in the same manner for everyone. Failure to do so would have consequences.
“It could cause the county as a whole to not qualify for flood insurance, then no one could get insurance,” said Blue Earth County Administrator Bob Meyer. “If we have a flood and seek disaster relief, or seek relief for any natural disaster, we might seek FEMA assistance and might not get it.”
Sandquist said he understands the county's need to comply. He's not sure about FEMA's application of their own rules.
"This is the end result of a federal policy that paints everything with that broad of a brush," he said, "and maybe it hits a lot of things that it shouldn't