Governor proposes aid package for Duluth and region; some legislators admit to "sticker shock."
The price tag to the state from the summertime flash floods that deluged Duluth and caused damage to a vast area of northeastern and central Minnesota will be about $190 million, state officials said Tuesday.
"This was a big disaster," Kris Eide, director of the state's Homeland Security and Emergency Management Division, told a working group of legislators, some of whom admitted to experiencing "sticker shock" at the news. Legislators vowed to dig into the details before a special legislative session on flood relief tentatively set for Aug. 24.
Republicans and DFLers already are disputing how much the June downpours should cost the state's taxpayers.
"Cha-ching, cha-ching, cha-ching," said Rep. Mary Liz Holberg, R-Lakeville, who co-chaired Tuesday's meeting and expressed concerns about where the money would come from.
"Nobody's asking for a free handout," said Rep. Kerry Gauthier, DFL-Duluth. "We're asking for a lift up."
Duluth and the northeast part of the state were hit by severe storms and flash floods June 19-21 that transformed creeks into raging torrents, wrecking roads and houses and even the city's zoo. The storms followed windstorms and floods in western and south-central counties. President Obama declared a major disaster for 15 counties and three tribal governments, qualifying them for Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) funding.
The state estimates damage to 1,700 homes, including 17 destroyed and 154 with major damage, as well as damage to major highways and bridges in the region.
The FEMA funds, which will go to fix public infrastructure, have been estimated at $108 million but are expected to grow once final damage estimates are in. The state is appealing a FEMA decision to decline assistance for individuals.
Eide presented the proposal from Gov. Mark Dayton's administration in responding to the floods and early July windstorms in northern Minnesota.
Under the plan, the state would pay the entire $26 million match in order to receive the FEMA funds, without any contribution from local governments, as is sometimes required. Transportation repairs would total $82 million, including major repairs to Hwys. 23 and 210. Some of that funding could eventually be recouped from federal highway funds.
Another $20 million would be set aside to fix businesses with physical damage; $12.2million for repairing damaged homes, and $10 million for repairing parks and trails. Another $2 million would go to clean public waters of debris and sediment, which poured into Lake Superior and created a milky mass that could be seen on satellite photos. On top of $190 million for flood recovery, another $7.9 million was included for windstorm damage to trees, parks and electrical power lines in northern counties in early July.
DFL legislators from Duluth and other affected regions said the damage is great and time to repair is short.
"There are 50- to 100-foot gaps on Hwy. 210," said Sen. Roger Reinert, DFL-Duluth. He noted that the storm wrecked the Minnesota Ballet's Duluth storage facility, including its props and sets. Rep. Tom Huntley, DFL-Duluth, asked about homes and roads damaged by landslides, and Rep. Mary Murphy, DFL-Hermantown, asked: "What about all the rivers that changed their course?"
Said Gauthier: "I'm trying to make sure that my people are taken care of, because winter's coming."
State officials said the money would come from existing reserves, cash balances and borrowing. Holberg and Sen. Claire Robling, R-Jordan, another co-chair of the meeting, said that could affect the state's efforts to pay its debts to public schools.
"The dollar amount is a little sticker shock," Holberg said, but Murphy replied, "I expected a much greater amount." Sen. Tony Lourey, DFL-Kerrick, said the amount is in line with state expenditures after flooding in and around Rushford in 2007.
Robling said legislators now will start to bore into the details, perhaps meeting in smaller working groups. "This state has always helped people in disaster circumstances, and we will do it this time," she said.
The Aug. 24 date has been set as a target, but a Dayton spokesman said the governor probably will not call a special session -- which only the governor can do -- until there is agreement on the relief and recovery bill to be passed.
Jim Ragsdale • 651-925-5042