The Red River's record crest pushed the citizens of Moorhead, Minn., and Fargo, N.D., to the limit this spring. But the northward-flowing Red proved no match for their mettle. Dirt dikes, millions of sandbags and sheer grit kept the swollen river from swamping these twin cities, even as it claimed broad swaths of prairie around them.
The flood brought out the best in residents and their local leaders. When the Red lapped most menacingly at the dikes, the region's elected representatives -- both states' congressional delegations, their governors, legislators and mayors -- had their boots planted firmly on the soggy ground reassuring weary citizens and pushing for permanent flood defense for the future. Gov. Tim Pawlenty in particular drew praise for visiting Moorhead five times in 10 days, as well as moving quickly to secure federal emergency disaster aid on the Minnesota side.
As the floodwaters recede, so too has the national media spotlight. It's heartening to see that political support for the floodstricken region has not ebbed one bit. If anything, elected officials are pressing even harder to help the area now that the hard work of cleanup has begun. A Tuesday news conference headlined by Pawlenty, State Sen. Keith Langseth, DFL-Glyndon, and State Rep. Morrie Lanning, R-Moorhead, was the latest welcome example of high-level advocacy on flood victims' behalf. The three held a morning summit in Moorhead, where sandbags still ring many buildings, and called for a smart flood relief package for those on the Minnesota side of the river. The package would supplement aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). That agency often reimburses 75 percent of eligible costs to repair public infrastructure damaged in a disaster; states and local communities cover the remaining 25 percent. What Pawlenty and the legislators are proposing is having the state pick up whatever percentage FEMA doesn't cover, relieving local communities already tapped out from the flood fight from having to pony up further.
Helping flood-stricken areas in this way isn't unprecedented. The state did so when southeastern Minnesota flooded in 2007, and the aid hastened recovery. It makes sense for the state to lend the same helping hand to the Moorhead area. "This is just huge; it's a really important part of the recovery puzzle for Moorhead,'' said Mayor Mark Voxland, who pointed out that his city has an annual operating budget of about $19 million and is facing a flood-related expense bill that so far stands at $17 million.
The package, which officials estimate will need to be at least $17 million, includes $2.7 million for the Homeowner Quick Start program, which offers no-interest, forgivable loans to disaster-area flood victims. Also included: funds for road repair and school districts. The aid is in addition to proposed bonding for permanent flood defenses.
Moorhead is one-half of an important regional economic hub. Its rapid recovery is a state priority. The proposal from Pawlenty, Langseth and Lanning is a sensible step, one that merits swift passage at the Capitol this year.