Flood damage to public infrastructure tops $108M

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton
Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton joined northeastern Minnesota government and private sector officials in addressing the government's response to flooding in northeastern Minnesota Friday afternoon outside the Public Safety Building in Duluth, Minn.
Derek Montgomery for MPR

The cost of damage caused by flooding in northeastern Minnesota is more than $108.6 million. Gov. Mark Dayton released the figure after meeting with local and state officials in Duluth today.

The governor said the legislature will meet in a special session in the coming weeks to address how to pay for the damages to the region from records rains last week.

The figure has been anticipated all week and provides some scope and scale to the damage incurred in last week's flooding. The amount encompasses damage to roads, sewers and other public infrastructure.

Gov. Dayton said both local and state agencies are moving as quickly as possible to secure funding.

"Local government are putting out money right now that are not in their budgets," Dayton said. "We'll have a special session as soon as we can get enough information together to be able to assess correctly what needs to be done and where the money needs to be directed."

For most of the week, officials from the Federal Emergency Management Agency have been traveling throughout the flood zone meeting with local officials to assess the damage.

Dayton signed a request today asking President Barack Obama to declare the region a federal disaster area. A declaration begins the process for lining up federal funding. Dayton's request covers 13 counties and three tribal nations.

Rep. Mary Murphy
Minnesota state Rep. Mary Murphy addresses the media about the government's response to flooding in northeastern Minnesota Friday afternoon outside the Public Safety Building in Duluth, Minn.
Derek Montgomery for MPR

"I have no doubt that the presidential declaration will be approved by the president and signed," Dayton said. "It's just a question of when. Typically it's two weeks. We'll see if we can shorten that."

The $108.6 million figure does not include damage to private property. Currently, assessors are tallying the effect of the flooding on homes and businesses. That figure will also be submitted to FEMA with the hope of obtaining some assistance, Dayton said. Few homeowners in the region have flood insurance.

Lawmakers and government officials stressed they have a plan for moving forward, but it will require time and patience. Gov. Dayton and lawmakers hope to convene the special session in July or August, but because of the amount of work still ahead, held out the possibility it could be later.

Senate Republican Majority Leader Dave Senjem was also in Duluth. He said disasters are difficult, but bring people together. And he says going into special session, lawmakers are no exception.

"As we go forward, that we put together a package that will meet the needs as certainly best we can of this area and once again bring Minnesota together, bring this are together," Senjem said. "Heal it up and move it on. That's what's important right now."

Lawmakers don't know specifics of what they will discuss during the special session, other than funneling money to help rebuild the region.

FEMA typically provides 75 percent of the assistance, with the state and local agencies picking up the rest. In the last several disasters, like the tornadoes that hit Minneapolis last May, the state fully paid the 25 percent match. But the scale of this disaster and a tight state budget could make it challenging for the state to pick up the full 25 percent.

Flood debris
A mound of items from Joan Lindberg's basement await disposal Thursday, June 28, 2012 at her home in Esko, Minn. The items were damaged after flood waters filled her basement.
Derek Montgomery for MPR

DFL Representative Mary Murphy's district runs through Carlton and St. Louis counties, which include some of the hardest hit areas in last week's flooding.

Murphy said there is no quickly available state money to help local governments in this type of disaster. For example, Murphy said local government agencies are expending millions of dollars just by hauling away waste and debris, hoping to get reimbursed by the state.

"They've got to recover their costs because they're paying the haulers. The bills will come in in 21 days and nothing in any of this process will get money from the feds or the state in that amount of time," Murphy said. "If the special session can establish this emergency fund, that would be very helpful to businesses and to agencies that are trying to offer service."

Dave Montgomery, chief administrative officer for the city of Duluth, said says the city is recovering, dealing with the most pressing projects first.

"And that $108 million, I know, is a conservative number," Montgomery said "When FEMA went through their discussions yesterday, they were cutting those numbers down just so that they would have a conservative number. Almost certainly when it's all done it will be greater than that across the whole region."

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