BLOOMSBURG, Pa. — Lt. Gov. Jim Cawley reached to a sign posted at the high water mark of the wall of a restroom at the Bloomsburg Fairgrounds.
"I can barely touch it," Cawley said.
The last time he toured the fairgrounds, the water dumped during the twin storms of Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee had just receded from the high point on Sept. 9, 2011.
Mud smeared the grounds, and the board of directors canceled the fair for the first time in 157 years.
On Thursday, Cawley returned to rebuilt grounds as vendors set up stands and owners parked collectible cars inside buildings for an automobile show that starts Friday.
"What a difference a year makes," Cawley said. "I'm here to celebrate the return of the Bloomsburg Fair."
Fair President Paul Reichart, who took the helm during the year of the flood, said restoring the grounds cost $2.5 million, including $300,000 in drainage work.
"First, we had to repair fences, which were outside and along the race track," he said.
Blacktop washed away. Offices, including the main building spared by previous floods, needed complete makeovers. Doors to almost every building needed fixing.
"Two barns we put back on foundations, which we saved," Reichart said.
Volunteers from churches and other groups shoveled away mud. Reichart said 300 members of the Mormon church pitched in.
"Just labor to clean up is still going on," he said.
To recoup some of the money spent on repairs, tickets will increase to $8 from $5 when the fair opens from Sept. 22-29. Parking fees will remain at $5.
Reichart said the fair's board tried new ideas like the car show, the Bloomsburg Nationals powered by Carlisle Events, which runs from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and from 7 a.m. to noon Sunday.
Lance Miller of Carlisle Events said owners of 350 antiques, muscle cars, luxury cars and sports cars registered in advance for the show. His 1959 racing Corvette drew "aahs" from Cawley and others who stepped inside the Industrial Building to see cars parked in a showroom where water reached above the doorways last September.
In connection with the auto show, the fair sponsors a bull riding show for $15 a ticket Friday night and a concert by Mandy Barnett and Michael Twitty for $25 on Saturday night.
"That will help reduce our debt," Reichart said.
Communities and vendors lost money when flooding canceled the fair last year.
"This is a big economic engine in our county and 50 miles around," state Rep. David Millard, R-Berwick.
Many owners who asked the federal government to buy their flood-damaged homes have received the OK from Washington, Millard said.
He thinks more owners will want to leave damaged homes now that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers decided not to build a floodwall in Bloomsburg.
A bill for which Millard seeks support would allocate the $20 million reserved for the state's share of building a floodwall to other flood relief, including more buyouts of homes and protection for businesses damaged by the flood.
For example, Kawneer, a manufacturer of aluminum windows and doors in Bloomsburg, is building its own floodwall.
"We're exploring every possibility," Millard said.
Millard also sought help for his flood relief bill from Cawley, who before becoming governor redirected flood control money from a dam to buyouts in Bucks County, where he served as a commissioner.
"There might be a greater opportunity to take people out of harm's way," Cawley said.