Flood relief package unveiled to mixed response

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It’s been about seven weeks since torrential rains caused more than $100 million in damage to Duluth and other areas of 15 counties and three tribal lands.

Now, the Dayton Administration has put forth a $189.85 million proposal to not only directly help with those damaged areas and others, but also to provide a significant amount for mitigation for the affected areas so that similar results do not happen again.

The co-chairs of the 2012 Disaster Relief Work Group expected to see a $27 million proposal, just the state amount needed to receive the Federal Emergency Management Agency funds. Both Rep. Mary Liz Holberg (R-Lakeville) and Sen. Claire Robling (R-Jordan) called the plan “sticker shock.” The group is likely to help craft the state’s disaster relief package. (Watch the meeting.)

A special session to deal with disaster relief is tentatively scheduled for Aug. 24.

President Obama declared 15 counties and three tribal lands a major disaster following the June 19-21 severe storms and flash flooding in northeastern Minnesota, and the June 14-18 windstorms and flooding in the western and south-central parts of the state. With such a declaration, the federal government pays 75 percent of costs to help fix public infrastructure and requires a 25 percent match.

Gov. Mark Dayton unsuccessfully requested individual assistance for five counties and the Fond du Lac Band. A decision on his appeal of the federal funding decision could come anytime.

“If you can’t depend on government to help during a disaster, when can we,” said Rep. Kerry Gauthier (DFL-Duluth).

Included in the administration’s proposal is:

  • $82 million for transportation purposes, including $38 million for state trunk highway, bridge and road repair;
  • $22.03 million for the Department of Natural Resources, including $10.03 million for facility and natural resource damage;
  • $20 million for employment and economic development; and
  • $12.72 million for housing finance, primarily for 10-year, $30,000 forgivable loans for damaged housing structures. The amount presupposes 1,700 damaged homes.

While it won’t help with the response to the latest destruction, the group also looked at the results of a March 2012 report by the Office of the Legislative Auditor about the state’s response to helping communities recover from natural disasters.

Among its findings is that state law has no requirement as to divvying up who pays the local 25 percent match in a federal declaration. Most recently, the state has paid the full 25 percent; however, in 2008 and earlier the state sometimes paid just 15 percent and left local governments on the hook for 10 percent.

There is a lack of predictability for local governments on what the state might do, said Jody Hauer, evaluation project manager with the Office of the Legislative Auditor.

Among the recommendations put forth by report authors is that the Legislature set criteria for state and local government shares of project costs.

It also found the state “has insufficient criteria for activating state recovery programs following natural disasters that do not receive presidential declarations of major disaster, even though state aid has helped communities with such disasters.” It is recommended the Legislature determine if and when state aid should be used in cases where there is no federal disaster declaration, and a dedicated account should be considered to fund initial recovery in such cases.