Dayton to fight FEMA decision to deny more flood aid for north

  • Article by: JENNIFER BROOKS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 25, 2012 - 11:18 PM

The agency ruled there wasn't enough damage to warrant individual assistance, a decision that the governor called wrong.

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In this aerial photo, waters from an overflowing creek inundate homes in the Irving Park neighborhood of Duluth, Minn., June 20, 2012.

Photo: Bob King, Associated Press

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Gov. Mark Dayton is pledging to fight a Federal Emergency Management Agency decision to deny additional aid to flood-damaged homes and businesses in northern Minnesota.

On Wednesday, FEMA announced it was rejecting the state's request for individual assistance to homes and businesses damaged by the June floods. Within hours, Dayton directed Kris Eide, director of the state's Homeland Security and Emergency Management division, to appeal the decision.

"I believe this was the wrong decision, and I am deeply disappointed. We will begin working on an appeal immediately," Dayton said in a statement Wednesday afternoon. The governor also plans to call a special session of the Legislature in August to direct state aid and resources to the flood-battered counties.

FEMA declared a federal disaster area for the flooded region earlier this month and pledged federal assistance to repair public infrastructure in 13 northern counties and three tribal nations.

Separate grants for individual assistance would have steered aid to residents and private businesses who suffered damages or losses not covered by insurance.

But FEMA usually reserves those grants for disasters that cause serious damage to more than 500 homes, and the state counted only about 171 homes with serious damage.

"Based on our review of all of the information available, it has been determined that the damage to dwellings from this event was not of such severity and magnitude as to warrant the implementation of Individual Assistance," the agency administrator wrote in a letter to Dayton. "Therefore, I must inform you that your request for Individual Assistance is denied."

It is the second time in a row that FEMA has denied individual aid for Minnesota. The agency rejected a similar request in 2011, when a tornado touched down in north Minneapolis in May, wrecking the heart of that neighborhood. FEMA spokesperson Marquita Hynes said later that the decision to deny the appeal for individual aid was based on the concentration of damage and ability of state and local governments, along with local volunteer organizations, to handle the recovery on their own.

Wednesday's action didn't come as much of a surprise to Duluth homeowner Dick Vitullo, who watched 9 inches of water soak into the home he shares with his wife, Perry.

"I really didn't expect FEMA to do anything," he said. Instead, he is focusing on the building permits that came through on Wednesday that will allow the Vitullos to move ahead with $15,000 worth of repairs. "Now we can finally start putting things back together," he said.

Vitullo hopes the Legislature will be able to provide some of the assistance the federal government denied -- not for his family, but for his neighbors.

"Any monetary help [for flooded homeowners] would be fine. But I would rather see it go to people who are not as well off as we are," said Vitullo, a retiree. "I would rather see any help go to people who really need it. We're going to be fine."

Jennifer Brooks • 651-925-5049

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