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Willow River was one area evacuated due to flooding. The government will cover 75 percent of repair costs in the disaster areas.

Elizabeth Flores, Star Tribune

Federal disaster aid coming for flood damage

  • Article by: RACHEL E. STASSEN-BERGER and RICHARD MERYHEW
  • Star Tribune
  • July 6, 2012 - 9:58 PM

Flood-weary communities from Duluth to Cannon Falls got a bit of good news Friday when the federal government issued a major disaster declaration for 13 Minnesota counties and three tribal nations battered by recent rains and flash floods.

The declaration means the water-ravaged communities are eligible for public aid to repair damaged roads, bridges and other public facilities. It also makes them eligible for grants to help reduce long-term risk to life and property from natural hazards, according to the state Department of Public Safety.

The declaration came one week after Gov. Mark Dayton wrote to the Obama administration requesting federal disaster aid.

Dayton spokesman Bob Hume called the declaration "a very important step in the recovery process," adding that the governor "was grateful with the quick turnaround."

Unrelenting rains and winds last month resulted in at least $108 million in damages to public property from Cannon Falls in southern Minnesota to Lake Superior's North Shore. The flooding that followed buckled roads, shuttered state parks, washed out bridges and overran sewer systems.

Some of the heaviest damage occurred in the Lake Superior port city of Duluth, where steady rains June 19 and 20 dumped as much as 10 inches of water in parts of the city and surrounding areas, creating the worst flash flooding in more than a century. Dozens of roads washed out or crumbled. Scores of residents were forced from homes. Thirteen animals died and others escaped because of rising waters at the Lake Superior Zoo.

A day later, flooding to the south overwhelmed several communities in nearby Carlton County, including the city of Moose Lake, where an estimated 30 percent of the homes had taken on water. At one point, the flooding overwhelmed the main pump at the city's sanitary sewer pump station, causing it to fail.

Mark Vahlsing, Moose Lake's city administrator, said Friday that the damaged lift station should be back in service next week.

"We're doing pretty well," he said, adding that the city finally "is drying out."

The Legislature is likely to meet in special session to approve the state match for the federal funding and potentially fund any gaps in federal recovery aid. The timing of that session has yet to be set. Generally, lawmakers do not return to the State Capitol to approve funding until a fuller needs assessment is complete.

With the disaster declaration, the federal government will agree to pick up 75 percent of the final cost of repairs. State and local governments are responsible for picking up the remainder.

But it's not yet clear how high the costs will mount.

"Nobody really knows the final cost until all the repairs are made and all the bills are in," said Doug Neville, deputy director of the communications office for the Minnesota Department of Public Safety.

The initial disaster declaration covers Aitkin, Carlton, Cook, Crow Wing, Dakota, Goodhue, Kandiyohi, Lake, Meeker, Pine, Rice, Sibley and St. Louis counties and the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, Grand Portage Band of Lake Superior Chippewa and Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe.

More aid may yet be approved.

Next week the state will begin assessments of Aitkin, Carlton, Lake, Pine and St. Louis counties and the Fond du Lac Tribal Nation to check eligibility for individual assistance grants, which would help people and businesses that suffered damage but lack insurance coverage. Those assessments were delayed because some areas were still inaccessible in late June, said Kris Eide, director of the state's emergency management operations.

rachel.stassen-berger@startribune.com • Twitter: @rachelsb richm@startribune.com • 612-673-4425

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