Who'll pay for flood damage in SE Minnesota?

No special session, she says
During an appearance in Stockton, Lt. Gov. Carol Molnau said she doesn't know if a special session of the Legislature is necessary.
MPR Photo/Sea Stachura

In an estimate released late Monday afternoon, Gov. Tim Pawlenty said the combined damages to homes, businesses and public infrastructure is more than $67 million dollars. So who pays the bills?

Speaking in Winona, Molnau made two things clear: Minnesotans have been helping each other generously in these difficult times, and to get reimbursed every person, township and agency needs to document all losses and expenses.

After that, it seems there are more questions than answers. Molnau, who is also the transportation commissioner, says the department of transportation is still in clean-up mode.

Out of service
Vehicles all over Stockton are covered with mud from the flooding.
MPR Photo/Sea Stachura

"We're literally clearing debris, still. Last night we had a couple more washes," she said. "They were small, they were taken off the roads, but continuing rain will make a difference as to where our efforts are."

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Heavy rain is expected Monday night. Nine highways were damaged in last weekend's flash floods. That doesn't include any of the county, city and township roads affected.

"The question people are asking is not only when will things be open, but when they are, who will pay for it all?" she said.

Molnau says she hopes to have state highways fully repaired by November. Federal highway emergency money will give the state some funds to fix the trunk highways, but not local roadways. Local governments should look to FEMA for that money. Molnau says she realizes that reimbursement process can take up to two years, and says the state may be able to provide some loans to local governments in the meantime.

Molnau says she doesn't want to rush into a special session without having a complete sense of the region's needs.

Local governments are already straining under the clean-up costs. In previous disasters the state Legislature appropriated funds for counties and municipalities to help pay for recovery, the governor has said he is willing to consider a special session. But Molnau says they need all the facts.

"If there is opportunity for us to help, you don't want to miss something significant and needs to be addressed. You don't know that until a full assessment is done," she said.

The list of needs is already lengthy. The Department of Health is investigating mold levels in the affected areas.

Minnesota Pollution Control Agency Commissioner Brad Moore says his staff is working with counties to find disposal sites for solid and hazardous waste. Wastewater treatment plants in Goodview and Rushford are shut down. Rushford's freshwater treatment plant is polluted with E. coli.

Moore says resolving these problems is a painstaking process. And it's not the MPCA's only concern. Moore says in Utica Township sinkholes are forming around a feedlot's manure storage basin. He says the PCA is watching that area.

"Feedlots are designed with a good two feet or more of additional capacity to deal with rainwater," he said. "We've had that amount of rainwater for that in a matter of days. So we are in danger at a number of those facilities of overtopping. Department of Agriculture, MPCA are working with agriculture community to figure out how to deal with that in a way so that the waste doesn't go directly into the rivers."

Nearly 5,000 feedlots are registered in the six-county disaster area. Moore is particularly concerned with those feedlots in Winona, Fillmore and Houston counties hemorrhaging manure into the region's Karst geology.

While these immediate concerns are being addressed, DNR Commissioner Mark Holsten says his agency is looking at what could be done in the future to better handle a disaster like this. Holsten says the area was supposed to be somewhat protected from floods. Holsten says his department is trying to understand what happened.

"The levies, the dikes, that were all put in place, the management of water as we knew it to be, and understanding how and where that rain fell and the volume of that rain, that's what we're in the process of trying to understand," he said.

Understanding what happened may lead to further infrastructure needs, that could also mean more costs. At the moment, many city governments are looking at a forecast of major losses.

Property values are plummeting, for the moment water and sewer revenues are dried up in some places, and a couple city administrators say it's hard to keep track of all expenses.