Officials propose $190 million aid package for flood recovery
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- August 7, 2012 - 2:52 PM
State officials proposed spending nearly $190 million in state funds to help rebuild and recover from the devastating June floods in Duluth and northeastern Minnesota and in parts of central Minnesota.
Republican officials at a working group expressed concerned about "sticker shock" for the costs, but DFLers representing the flooded areas said the amount is reasonable and possibly on the small side.
The $190 million would be in addition to funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, currently estimated at $108 million but likely to increase once additional damage estimates are in. Another $8 million was proposed in state spending for damage from windstorms in northern Minnesota in early July.
A proposed bill was presented to more than 20 House and Senate members gathered in advance of a planned Special Session to pass flood-relief and recovery measures. That session has not been officially called, but Aug. 24 has been listed as the tentative date.
Kris Eide, Director of the state's Homeland Security Management Division, presented the bill, which many legislators at the meeting said they were seeing for the first time. It included state funds to provide the entire $26 million match for the FEMA funds, without any contribution by local governments, as well as $82 million for road and bridge repairs not covered by FEMA, $22 million for natural resources and $17 million for water and soil resources. A total of $15 million would be set aside for fixing flash-flood erosion and sediment removal.
The working group co-chairs, Sen. Claire Robling, R-Jordan, and Rep. Mary Liz Holberg, R-Lakeville, said they may need to break into subgroups to work on specific areas before the session is called. Both said they expected a bill that would include the federal match as well as some emergency costs, but not such a large expenditure at this time.
"Cha-ching, cha-ching, cha-ching," said Holberg after seeing the bill for the fist time. "Where's the money coming from." She said, however, she and other committee chairs would take an in-depth look at the proposal.
Robling added, "This state has always helped people in disaster circumstances, and we will do it this time."
Rep. Mary Murphy, DFL-Duluth, said she believed the state bill was too small considering the enormity of the damage. Sen. Tony Lourey, DFL-Kerrick, said it is not exorbitant. "This is less than would have been done in previous disasters," he said, citing a $200 million-plus expenditure for the Rushford floods of 2007.
The bill and the coming Special Session are to address damage from flash flooding that began in western and south-central Minnesota on June 14-18 and hit Duluth and the northeast June 19-21. President Obama has declared 15 counties and 3 tribal governments as major disaster areas, eligible for assistance from FEMA funds. Preliminary damage assessments indicate damage to 1,700 homes from the flooding.
The windstorms of early July damaged trees, electrical lines and state parks in several northern counties.
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