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A portion of a Chippewa County farm field near Granite Falls is flooded June 19 after heavy rains fell. Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton is seeking a presidential disaster declaration for counties with flood damage. Chippewa County and Renville County in western Minnesota are among the counties that have reported significant damage. (Tribune file photo by Susan Lunneborg)

Dayton seeks presidential disaster declaration

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By Don Davis

Forum News Service

ST. PAUL — Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton on Wednesday asked that counties damaged by floods last month be declared a presidential disaster area.

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Dayton also added 16 counties to the state disaster list, meaning 51 of Minnesota’s 87 counties reported damage from flooding that began June 11.

If President Barack Obama honors Dayton’s request, state and local government will get federal money to pay 75 percent of flood-related costs. The state will pay the rest.

Dayton said that eight mostly rural counties — Chippewa, Freeborn, Jackson, Murray, Nobles, Pipestone, Renville and Rock — have reported $10.8 million damage to public facilities. Minnesota needed to record at least $7.3 million to qualify for federal aid.

However, the governor said, 31 counties and one American Indian tribe so far have reported more than $55 million in costs, so total damages are expected to rise substantially as more damage reports come in.

As federal, state and local officials survey damage, Dayton said, damage assessments are coming in higher than initial reports.

State Emergency Management Director Kris Eide said she expects counties in the Twin Cities area to report far higher damages than rural areas because the population is higher and there are more public facilities.

Federal money only is available for government infrastructure damage and costs of fighting floods. Any help for private homes and business owners would come from other programs, but it is not clear if that will be available.

Even before Obama decides whether he will approve the Dayton disaster request, the U.S. Department of Transportation told state officials Wednesday that Minnesota will receive up to $5 million in “quick release” emergency relief funds to help fix the state’s flood-damaged roads.

The federal money will reimburse the state for emergency repair work and is in addition to $750,000 the federal government already sent Minnesota.

The state will share the funds with local road authorities.

“The flood damage recently inflicted on Minnesota roads, highways and bridges has been severe and widespread,” Dayton said. “These funds will speed up important repairs statewide.”

During a recent Minnesota visit, Obama promised that his administration will help Minnesota recover from one of the most widespread floods in state history.

The governor’s letter to Obama laid out the background for Obama: “Minnesota is experiencing historic summer flooding. The precedent conditions for the disaster were set this past winter when much of the state experienced well above average snowfall. Wide areas of northern and eastern Minnesota had between 150 and 200 percent of normal winter precipitation. Cool spring weather and an orderly snowmelt runoff fully charged the soils with moisture. By the end of April, wetlands and lakes were full; rivers and streams were running at high levels.”

The governor told the president about heavy rainfall in May and, especially, June.

The 10-member Minnesota congressional delegation followed Dayton’s letter with its own: “As we’ve toured affected communities in recent weeks, we’ve seen firsthand the damage these storms have caused. After disaster strikes Minnesota, we hit the ground running and do not stop until we have the resources in place to ensure that communities can recover. We urge you to make the federal government a full partner in that effort.”

Dayton’s letter explained that the Minnesota Department of Public Safety Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, Federal Emergency Management Agency and county emergency managers are continuing to assess damage in affected counties.

Most of the damage reported by local officials is to roads and bridges. Also, local governments spent money to protect their communities from rising water.

In addition to fixing roads and bridges, local governments and some nonprofits could use federal funds for debris removal and flood prevention as well as fixing water public facilities such as sewage treatment plants and parks.

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