Minnesota News

More Minnesota counties may get disaster declarations, feds will pick up most of the clean-up tab

Waste outside
Flood waste collection site in Mankato on Wednesday. Minnesota has about $24 million in the bank to pay for disasters like the recent floods, but the federal government is expected to pay for most of the damage.
Mark Zdechlik | MPR News

President Joe Biden’s disaster declaration means 22 Minnesota counties will get federal aid to assist with flood recovery, but as damage assessments continue that number could increase. 

“Just because there are counties that aren’t listed in the original declaration does not mean that we can’t add in more later,” said Brian Olson, director of the preparedness and recovery bureau under Minnesota’s division of Homeland Security. 

Olson said the state is in the early stages of figuring out how much the surging water destroyed — as well as how much recovery will cost. Because of that, it’s too soon to predict when aid will start to flow, Olson said, but Minnesotans can help catalog the wreckage. 

“Any citizens that have damage to their homes, get pictures, get evidence of it and contact their county emergency management office to start submitting all of that information,” Olson said. “That really helps us as we move forward doing damage assessments to really get the scope of what this thing is.”

When the money does come, 75 percent of eligible damages will be covered by the federal government, he said. The state will pick up the remaining 25 percent, pulling from a state disaster assistance account that Olson estimates has about $24 million at the ready. 

That account was established a decade ago, expediting the process of dishing out aid in times of need and relieving burden from local jurisdictions. Previously, the legislature had to convene each time a disaster was declared in order to appropriate money, often requiring a special session. 

Rep. Gene Pelowski, DFL-Winona, pushed for that account and, again, for a recent change that keeps it recharged at a maximum of $50 million.

Once the approximately $24 million is drained, the account will go back up to $50 million, which should be enough on the state’s side for this disaster until the next legislative session, Rep. Pelowski said.

Transitioning into recovery mode and fully assessing damages will be easier as rivers calm down, said Olson with Homeland Security. 

That’s predicted for this upcoming week — sort of. 

two teens walking
Two teenagers walk along the Riverfront Trail along the Minnesota River in Mankato on Monday afternoon. The Rapidan Dam upstream is near a catastrophic failure due to flood waters exhausting the 100-plus year old dam.
Jackson Forderer for MPR News

Minnesotans can expect another wet week across the state, with heavier precipitation falling over Fourth of July celebrations, according to the National Weather Service. But so far, it doesn’t seem like Minnesotans need to brace for destructive flooding again.

“The rain we’ll have this week doesn’t look to have enough to send rivers back to where we saw them,” said meteorologist Mike Griesinger. “We’ll basically pause the receding river levels. They’ll level out, maybe increase a little bit … it’s more just delaying the water going back down.”

The heaviest rainfall will be in southern Minnesota, hitting areas like Cannon River and Blue Earth River – which consumed a house last Tuesday and led to the pre-emptive destruction of the beloved Rapidan Dam Store.

“If they hit the rainfall jackpot in either of those areas, were they to get three to four inches — which is possible, but doesn’t look likely — then you could see some renewed rises down there in southern Minnesota,” Griesinger said.

As river levels recede, people should stay back as flows remain “aggressive,” he added.

“Even if you’re an experienced paddler, it would be dangerous to even try to get a kayak out just because of how much debris will be out there,” Griesinger said. “And you got a lot of water where it normally isn’t.”

Several roadways remain potentially dangerous for travelers. 

High water encroaches on a park and bridge
The Mississippi River -- in major flood stage -- encroaches on a park and bridge near Lower Grey Cloud Island in Cottage Grove, Minn., on Thursday. The road has been closed until water levels recede.
City of Cottage Grove

As of Saturday afternoon, portions of nine highways in south central and the southwest corner of Minnesota remained closed or restricted. That included Highway 99, near the Minnesota River bridge, east of St. Peter — where both the bridge and highway are closed — and Highway 71 in Jackson. 

Several roadways continue to open back up, including Highway 22 south of St. Peter and Highway 169 from Le Sueur to St. Peter. 

Travelers can refer to the state’s 511 page for the most up-to-date information on roadway closures and reopenings.