A new state program is helping counties clean up in the wake of natural disasters that don’t quite rise to the level of federal disasters. One of the first to benefit is Martin County. Thunderstorms and high winds raked the southwestern Minnesota county on June 22, toppling trees, blocking roads and power lines, and saddling local governments with an almost $60,000 cleanup tab.
On Wednesday, the county became one of the first to benefit from a new state fund designed to help counties deal with smaller-scale local emergencies. Martin will collect $44,800 to reimburse the cost of debris removal and repairs to public utilities around the cities of Ceylon, Fairmont, Sherburn and Welcome.
“We’re very grateful,” said Martin County Emergency Management Director Erin Busta, who has been helping the rural communities dig out from under the damage caused by the storm and winds that topped 70 miles an hour.
The early morning storm left a huge mess. In Sherburn, “almost every road was impassable” due to downed trees and power lines, Busta said. It took weeks to get everything cleaned up and repaired, and without the state aid, the communities would have been left to foot the entire bill.
“The process of reimbursing the community is going to go relatively fast,” said Joe Kelly, director of the Minnesota Department of Public Safety’s Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management. “This program focuses on helping local governments recover from an event.”
Last year, the state dug into its own coffers to help three counties — Morrison, Dakota and Washington — that were left off the list when the federal government issued a disaster declaration for 37 Minnesota counties hit hard by early summer storms. Those counties received about $1.4 million in state assistance.
Martin County is the first to benefit from the fund outside of a major disaster declaration. Kelly said there is about $1 million in the fund right now.