Dayton pledges ongoing help
BLUE EARTH — Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton and other state officials visited Blue Earth on Monday to coordinate with local leaders on disaster recovery plans and funding.
Faribault County is among the places across southern Minnesota still drying out after heavy rains and subsequent flooding in late June. The Blue Earth wastewater plant was inundated with water, lost power and had to discharge sewage and rainwater directly into the Blue Earth River. County drainage ditches have been eroded. Farm fields were swamped. County and township roads were flooded or washed out. And hundreds of homes have had flooded basements.
“Leading up to the weekend that started the 22nd of June we had had several days of rain, nothing torrential, but the ground was completely saturated,” said Lisa Frommie, Faribault County’s emergency management director. “And then on Sunday the 24th, we got anywhere between 4 and 7 inches, depending on the exact location, within about an hour and a half. Because the ground was so saturated, there was so much runoff, there was nowhere for it to go.”
Faribault County commissioners responded with a county disaster declaration on June 26. The current damage estimate stands at $350,000, with the figure expected to climb.
Dayton’s recent state disaster declaration for 36 counties, including Faribault and Martin, means the state will cover 75 percent of the cost of repairs for public infrastructure. Local units of government will cover the remaining 25 percent. But if Dayton can convince President Trump to declare a federal disaster, the federal government will cover 75 percent, with the state funding the other 25 percent for eligible repairs. The difference could be huge for smaller governments such as townships, Frommie noted. Some have had to repair roads to restore access to homes. Frommie said a county or city is better able to absorb these costs, but a $25,000 outlay for a township can be a massive expense.
Federal money also includes hazard mitigation funding, which helps eliminate or reduce future flooding problems through flood-control structures or measures.
Homeowners, meanwhile, generally must rely on their own insurance. Some volunteer organizations have been working in the Blue Earth area to help homeowners with cleanup.
Dayton spent Monday in three area cities: Windom, Jackson and Blue Earth. He was joined by Congressman Tim Walz and state Sen. Julie Rosen of Vernon Center. Others in the entourage included state Rep. Bob Gunther of Fairmont, Minnesota Department of Agriculture Commissioner Dave Frederickson and state Homeland Security and Emergency Management director Joe Kelly.
“It’s great to see local leaders, first responders and emergency services people, and the city and the county all working together and state involvement as well … and all the community volunteers who have helped out,” Dayton told a crowd at the Blue Earth Fire Hall. “You know, the Minnesota spirit rises above the occasion in a crisis. I salute you all for doing that.”
“We’re here to let you know that we are not just making one stop, we’re going to be here throughout the process … we’re here to pitch in and work with you,” he added.
Rosen thanked Dayton for his disaster declaration, calling it “huge” for the area.
“I always joke, but it’s sincere, we don’t ask for a lot down here (in southern Minnesota),” she said. “We like to take care of our own needs, but when we do ask it’s because we are on our knees and we need help. And this is where we’re at.”
Frederickson said there will be a wait to determine the exact extent of crop damage. He said the good news is that most farmers have crop insurance. His department does have no-interest loans available to help farmers repair buildings, water systems, sewer systems and other infrastructure. The department’s website is www.mda.state.mn.us
Kelly said his role is to be an intermediary and advocate for counties, cities and townships as they make applications for disaster assistance. He expects the Federal Emergency Management Agency to come to Minnesota within two weeks to conduct a preliminary damage assessment. He said disaster relief could be for public infrastructure only, or it could include funds for households and businesses. He said it is key that those who have suffered damage report losses to Frommie’s office. The hotline number is (507) 526-6203.