Disaster special session set for Monday
ST. PAUL - Minnesota legislators will meet Monday to appropriate money to help flood and tornado victims.
Gov. Tim Pawlenty announced early today that he will call the special legislative session, which he wants to last no more than one day, to begin at 1 p.m. Monday. His announcement follows a late Wednesday Washington action in which President Barack Obama declared 21 southern Minnesota counties a federal disaster area.
Obama's declaration means that debris removal and public facility repair will be funded with 75 percent federal funds. But there was no announcement about whether individuals would be eligible for federal relief.
"We thank the federal government for providing assistance that will help Minnesota communities in their rebuilding efforts, and we look forward to their decision on help for individuals who were affected by flooding last month," Pawlenty said. "While we're hopeful that the decision on individual assistance will be made soon, the state will not delay in its response."
Pawlenty said it still is possible federal funds will be available for homeowners and renters affected by last month's floods.
A preliminary damage estimate was set at $64.1 million, but the governor's office said that is expected to rise as more damage reports come in.
The special session will deal with the state costs for the flood and the $35 million in damage from a series of July 17 tornadoes.
The state aid would be funded by $32.5 million in cash, $26.7 million in borrowed money, $10 million from a transportation fund and $5 million from a highway fund, the governor's office said this morning. That falls slightly below the $80 million that lawmakers said would be in the bill.
While most of the state money would go to help flood victims, Sen. Dan Skogen, DFL-Hewitt, said $6.6 million would help the Wadena area recover from the June tornado.
Southern Minnesotans have waited for word that they will receive federal aid for floods that were especially serious in the southeast.
"Our local officials, first responders, citizens and volunteers have done tremendous work responding to these devastating floods," Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn, said. "I have seen first-hand the widespread damage that these southern Minnesota communities have endured and with this assistance, these communities can begin working to rebuild. This is a good beginning, and I will continue to work with state and federal officials for additional assistance."
Graig Fugate, head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said Blue Earth, Cottonwood, Dodge, Faribault, Freeborn, Goodhue, Jackson, Lincoln, Lyon, Martin, Mower, Murray, Olmsted, Pipestone, Rice, Rock, Steele, Wabasha, Waseca, Watonwan and Winona counties are eligible for federal aid.
Money also will be available for preventing future floods statewide, Fugate said.
Lawrence Sommers, who will coordinate Minnesota flood recovery, said more counties could be added to the disaster area.
Public facilities such as roads and buildings damaged by floods will be repaired or replaced by 75 percent federal funding, with the state providing the remaining 25 percent.
Staffs from the governor's office and top legislators negotiated a bill to be considered by lawmakers, and Pawlenty and legislative leaders agreed to the basics this week.
The governor insists that that bill is the only one to be considered by the special session, although some legislators are proposing other items. One being promoted is a bill to fight bullying in school.
Wadena was included in the bill after policymakers originally said they only wanted flood relief discussed.
"When the governor announced that a special session would be held to aid the September flood victims, I requested that disaster relief also be provided to Wadena," Sen. Dan Skogen, DFL-Hewitt, said. "Our region was devastated by the tornado, losing homes, businesses, community facilities and our high school. I'm very pleased that legislative leaders and the governor agreed to help us recover."
Wadena money would include $5.2 million to match federal disaster relief. Another $693,000 would be given to the school district to help with additional transportation costs caused by the tornado.
Also, $750,000 would be appropriated to plan for a new community center to replace facilities the tornado destroyed. It would be near or connected to a new high school.
Skogen initially sought $20.5 million for the community center.
The governor's office reports that provisions in the bill to be considered Monday include:
-- $15 million for damaged state and local roads and bridges.
- $14 million to reduce future flooding by cleaning up public waterways, repairing river gauges and the repair or relocation of the Oronoco dam.
$12 million to cover items federal spending does not.
$10 million for the Minnesota Investment Fund for grants to local organizatioins, including businesses.
$10 million to acquire easements from landowners on marginal lands in the disaster area to protect soil and water quality and to support fish and wildlife habitat.
$4 million loans for homeowners unable to repair or rebuild their homes due to flood damage expenses that exceed private insurance and federal assistance.
$4 million for farmers affected by floods.
- $3 million to help communities with erosion and sediment control.
- $523,000 for school districts that lost per-pupil funding or incurred increased transportation costs.
- $500,000 for low-interest loans and grants to finance infrastructure that might otherwise be unaffordable to communities.
- $250,000 for clean-up of historical buildings.
- $5.2 million for the non-federal cost share for eligible expenses from the June tornadoes in Blue Earth, Brown, Houston, Kittson, Nicollet, Sibley, Faribault, Freeborn, Olmsted, Otter Tail, Polk, Steele and Wadena counties.
- $750,000 to update Wadena's existing pre-design and design plans for public facilities.
$693,000 for school districts with uninsured losses to buildings and equipment in the tornadoes.
Davis reports for Forum Communications.