By Erin Trester
Forum News Service
LUVERNE - Gov. Mark Dayton visited southwestern Minnesota on Friday along with other state and federal officials to address the impact of flooding in the region.
The governor has been visiting the flood-affected areas throughout the week, and he listened Friday to questions and concerns about regional damage and how to proceed in obtaining aid.
“When there’s a disaster, there are no Republicans or Democrats,” Dayton said Friday. “We’re all Minnesotans, and there’s no handouts in this situation. You pay your taxes, so when these kinds of situations happen and you need assistance, you are entitled to it.”
Local officials and emergency managers from Rock County gathered at the Rock County Sheriff’s Office to meet with Dayton and the others.
U.S. Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken and U.S. Rep. Tim Walz were on hand to discuss the impact of recent storms on farms and agricultural communities.
State Sen. Bill Weber, Minnesota Emergency Management Director Kris Eide and Minnesota Agriculture Commissioner Dave Frederickson also were in attendance.
Dayton declared a state of emergency in 35 Minnesota counties Thursday in response to flooding and other problems related to heavy rainfall in recent days. His executive order makes a range of state resources available and engages state agencies in response efforts.
Klobuchar said passage of the 2014 farm bill created stability with crop insurance and disaster assistance programs.
“I think the immediate thing right now is getting the disasters declared in these counties and then go to the president to get them declared as federal disaster areas,” Klobuchar said. “Once we do that, if we can meet the $7.3 million threshold for the state with public infrastructure, then we have a 75 percent federal funding on infrastructure.”
Eide expressed optimism that the state will meet the threshold to get the federal money.
A major concern for the Rock County area is a feedlot operation with significant hail damage and no crops to feed its livestock.
Money given to disaster programs by the state includes the emergency livestock assistance program, it was explained. That program will help with the loss of feed, loss of hay due to flooding and other related issues. People may apply for that aid immediately, but when the money will arrive is unknown.
Franken said a timeline needs to be made as to when people who have feed loss will get money for assistance.
“We have a lot of staff people here who will be available to track down the answers to these questions and will be advocating for the quickest timelines, especially for things that need a quick timeline,” Franken said. “If you have a feedlot and have no feed, we need to turn that around quickly.”
A Minnesota Farm Bureau representative stressed the importance of getting damage documented and continuing to push the urgency of livestock needing forage.
Erin deKoning of the Rock County Veterinary Clinic also addressed current water quality for livestock.
“As far as water quality goes, it’s not something that you want those cows to be drinking,” deKoning said. “From a health standpoint, you have to watch out for infectious diseases … so ultimately farmers will have to be putting tanks out there and hauling water. There’s going to have to be some money for that.
“The cows are not just a way of making a living - they’re a part of our lives, and you have to consider the emotional blows that is caused by losing some of these cows,” she added. “From a vet standpoint, getting out to some of these farms is a challenge because of the roads. There definitely is a need to get these roads fixed.”
The Rock County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday passed a resolution authorizing the county engineer to use emergency procedures to negotiate contracts under $100,000 to get necessary repairs completed as quickly as possible. The county will start with the highest-trafficked areas, and then work its way through.
Damage to individual homes and required assistance also were topics Friday. Walz said individual homeowners are “the tough ones” to provide with assistance.
“Floods are the worst ... and this is going to take more than just the government to do it,” Walz said. “This is going to take neighbor help on some of it, because some of these programs don’t have homeowners’ insurance.”
Eide offered some solutions for obtaining assistance for individual homeowners.
“It does take a long time to assess the individual damage, but we encourage communities to form a long-term recovery committee with different community groups, governmental agencies and other organizations such as the Salvation Army or the Red Cross,” she said. “That’s where they can do things with personal property that either things like FEMA or the government can’t cover.”
Meanwhile, Nobles County Administrator Tom Johnson announced Friday that Nobles County Emergency Management Director Joyce Jacobs has submitted a preliminary damage assessment to the Minnesota Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management. Nobles County’s total is $647,828.
The preliminary assessment is the first step in determining whether Dayton will make a request for a presidential declaration.
By Erin Trester