Obama declares Northland flooding a federal disasterIt’s officially a federal disaster. Minnesota will get federal disaster aid to help with costs from the June storms and flooding that left at least $110 million in public infrastructure damage.
By: Mike Creger and Jana Peterson, Pine Journal
It’s officially a federal disaster.
Minnesota will get federal disaster aid to help with costs from the June storms and flooding that left at least $110 million in public infrastructure damage.
President Obama signed the major federal disaster declaration on Friday, July 5, making 13 Minnesota counties (including several counties further south) and three tribal nations eligible for federal assistance. The White House announcement came a week after Gov. Mark Dayton, who requested the aid, visited the area for a second time to get clearer damage estimates.
“I’m just grateful that the governor, our senators and congressman helped push this forward,” Carlton County Commissioner Tom Proulx said Friday. “It will free up much needed funding so we can get back to what we do best here in Carlton County and rebuild.”
It’s estimated that the public infrastructure flood damage in Carlton, St. Louis and Lake counties from the June 19-20 rain storm totals at least $104 million.
As of last Friday, it was estimated that Duluth will need to spend nearly half of the statewide flood damage estimate, $51 million. Public infrastructure damage in Carlton County is estimated at $30 million, but that number could still increase.
Flood aid will come in two forms, with 75 percent of funding coming from Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and a 25 percent match from state and local governments. The FEMA money comes as reimbursement, meaning government bodies need to submit claims to FEMA for repair work already done.
The first is public assistance – meaning to public entities, not to the public at large – that will provide aid to organizations for emergency work and the repair or replacement of disaster-damaged facilities. The second category involves hazard mitigation grants for work to reduce long-term risks to life and property from natural hazards.
Eligible work includes debris removal, emergency services related to the disaster and repair or replacement of damaged public facilities, such as roads, bridges, buildings, utilities and recreation areas.
David Lee, director of Carlton County Public Health and Human Services and a member of the county’s emergency management team, called the announcement “a huge relief.”
Lee was especially pleased that the declaration includes funding for hazard abatement in addition to repairs. He stressed the need to rebuild wisely, “so we build a stronger community and rebuild for the future,” instead of simply rebuilding the same thing.
“We need to look at what we should do differently to protect our communities in case of another flash flood,” Lee said.
Doug Neville, a spokesman for the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, said the state Legislature would need to convene to approve any state aid. He said that for Obama’s declaration to come just a week after the governor sent his request was unprecedented. The state expected to wait at least two weeks to find out, and FEMA and the President are allowed 30 days to decide on aid qualification.
FEMA Administrator W. Craig Fugate named Mark Neveau as the agency’s coordinating officer for recovery operations in the region.
Carlton County Emergency Management Director Brian Belich said FEMA will set up meetings with communities who will make the applications for reimbursement, to explain how everything works.
“It’s a good sign, that’s for sure,” Belich said, adding that the national flood insurance program and other governmental entities will be doing studies to determine what the high water marks are, what’s a 100-year flood, 500-year flood, etc. “It opens up the possibility that we will get reimbursed for 75 percent of the infrastructure repair costs.”
While the money would pay mostly for public infrastructure losses, FEMA will make another sweep through the region to see if individual aid should be made available to residents and/or businesses.
Aitkin, Carlton, Lake, Pine and St. Louis counties and the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa began getting visits by FEMA assessment teams beginning Wednesday. The teams will make a determination of whether individual home and business owners could get aid.
U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar was also in Barnum and Willow River Saturday to assess flood damage over the weekend and Duluth Friday.