Floodwaters from last week's heavy rains rolled into the metro area Monday, closing two key Minnesota River crossings and forcing thousands of commuters onto detours that will likely remain crowded the rest of this week.
Meanwhile, federal emergency officials began to fan out across 34 southern Minnesota counties to assess flood damage that may require even more aid than the $212 million in state and federal relief spent to help Minnesotans recover from the floods of 2007.
Gov. Tim Pawlenty said Monday he expects to call a special legislative session in early October to approve spending to help flood-stricken communities. Pawlenty said the session would take no longer than a day and be held sometime between Oct. 7 and Oct. 12.
The costs of the flood could complicate a tight cash-flow situation for the state, which already is facing a nearly $6 billion deficit in 2012-13. But Pawlenty has predicted a $235 million cushion at the end of the current budget period next June and said he doesn't expect the state flood relief costs to rise higher than that. Bridges taking Hwy. 101 and Hwy. 41 across the river in the southwest metro area will remain closed indefinitely this week, diverting more than 32,000 cars a day onto Interstate Hwy. 35W, where one northbound lane was already closed Monday for crews to dig a protective ditch, and Hwy. 169. Congestion on southbound I-35W toward the river lingered past 6 p.m. Monday.
"Seek alternate routes and remain patient. That's all we can do," said MnDOT spokesman J.P. Gillach.
MnDOT may also build a protective dike along I-35W, where the National Weather Service projected river floodwaters will rise to within a foot of the road surface by midweek. Gillach said Monday the agency would decide whether to build a dike along I-35W -- for the first time since 2001 -- "within 24 hours."
About three-quarters of the cost of repairing bridges, roads and sewers could be paid by the federal government, with the rest coming from the state. A combination of state borrowing from selling bonds, cash and federal funding is expected to be used to finance the relief effort.
"These communities will be rebuilt," Pawlenty said. "We want to move and will move as quickly as absolutely possible."
Pawlenty was flanked by DFL and GOP legislative leaders at a news conference outside his office at the capitol. All pledged a united front in dealing with the flood damage. The two major party gubernatorial candidates have also detoured their campaigns through flood country. DFL nominee Mark Dayton helped an Owatonna family move flooded appliances out of their home Saturday, and Republican nominee Tom Emmer met with local officials there Monday to offer "quiet encouragement."
The FEMA damage assessments, which include visits to individual homes and businesses across the region, will be used to make a bid for federal funds and shape legislation providing state money. Pawlenty said preliminary results could come later this week. FEMA officials arrived in Martin, Steele, Olmsted and Wabasha counties Monday and were scheduled to appear in Martin, Blue Earth, Rice, Faribault, Waseca and Dodge counties Tuesday.
At the news conference, Pawlenty said the state share of the spending will put further pressure on cash flow before an increase in federal Medicaid money arrives to relieve some stress on the budget.
In 2007, the Legislature relied on general fund cash to pay for its 25 percent share of the $148 million in state flood relief, with the rest coming from bonding or other sources.
Senate Majority Leader Larry Pogemiller, DFL-Minneapolis, said if Pawlenty's predictions are correct, "there should be no problem financially," Pogemiller said. Senate Minority Leader David Senjem, R-Rochester, whose district was hard-hit by floods, said the property damage is far more severe than in 2007. "You always think you've seen the big one, and then this one comes along," Senjem said.
Rainfall last Wednesday into Thursday measured more than 10 inches in Amboy, in Blue Earth County, and Truman, in Martin County. Theilman, in Wabasha County, got 8.57 inches; neighboring Zumbro Falls saw water to the rooftops in its downtown, where every building was declared uninhabitable.
While the heavy rain and flooding is concentrated across the most heavily farmed part of the state, a return to dry weather could limit crop damage. Fields of corn and soybeans, primed by an extraordinarily long growing season, had standing water in them Monday, but "based on the forecast, we're going to have combines in the field by Friday. There's no doubt in my mind," said University of Minnesota Extension educator Brad Carlson, who works in hard-hit Rice and Steele counties.
He estimated that "less than 1 percent" of the crops will be affected, he estimated.
In St. Paul, where the Mississippi River is expected to crest Saturday after taking on flow from the Minnesota, several roads along the river near downtown have already been restricted or closed entirely. Shep-ard-Warner Road between Eagle Street and Hwy. 61 is expected to be closed Tuesday, along with Jackson and Sibley Streets, leading to the river from Kellogg Boulevard.
Pat Doyle • 651-222-1210 Bill McAuliffe • 612-673-7646