Ramsey County is the state’s second-biggest county in terms of people, but the smallest county by far in area.
And it’s that combination of factors that’s preventing it from getting federal help for recovery from June’s severe rain and wind storms, said a St. Paul legislator who hopes to fix the situation next year.
DFL Rep. Alice Hausman, who chairs the House Capital Investment Committee and sits on the powerful Ways and Means Committee, said she plans to push a measure next year for supplementary state aid to plug gaps left when local jurisdictions with storm damage don’t meet thresholds set by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
“Because of its small size and dense population Ramsey County didn’t qualify for FEMA aid, but a number of small cities in the county would be comparable to other cities around the state that did get aid,” Hausman said.
Judd Freed, Ramsey County’s emergency management director, said, “the problem is, if a tree falls down in Ramsey County, it’s more likely to hit something. We have less space to absorb that damage, and a lot more people in that space.”
Eighteen Minnesota counties qualified for federal assistance under President Obama’s disaster declaration, all of them outside of the Twin Cities metro area with the exception of Hennepin County. As of July, the estimated damage cost was $17.7 million.
Hennepin County, which has twice as many people as Ramsey and is nearly four times the size, exceeded by about $600,000 FEMA’s $3.9 million threshold for the cost of uninsured infrastructure damage, emergency work and protective actions.
But Ramsey County fell about $280,000 short of its $1.7 million threshold, Freed said.
FEMA damage estimates in Ramsey County include $667,000 in St. Paul, $475,000 in Roseville, $145,000 in Maplewood and $109,000 in New Brighton. But those cities aren’t eligible for federal aid, even though communities across the line in Hennepin County which suffered less damage could be.
“Here we have all this damage around us, and we’re going to be out-of-pocket a lot of money,” Freed said. “Being 100 percent urbanized makes it more difficult for us to make that threshold.”
Freed said that the Association of Minnesota Emergency Managers has asked the Legislature for a disaster assistance fund if a county falls just short of federal disaster standards.
The Legislature will meet Monday for a one-day special session to appropriate state aid for storm-damaged counties to match FEMA aid, but only that. Hausman said her proposal for state disaster help will have to wait until the 2014 session.