Funding Considered As Floodwaters Continue To Rise

Pawlenty, legislative leaders

Floodwaters continue to rise in many southern Minnesota communities as state policymakers work on plans to fund flood relief.

Federal emergency personnel arrived in Minnesota Monday to begin the process of determining how much money Washington will send, with state leaders preparing to pick up remaining costs.

“The various layers of government need to stand together,” Gov. Tim Pawlenty said Monday in announcing that he will call a special legislative session, to last no more than a day, for sometime between Oct. 7 and 12.

This week’s Federal Emergency Management Agency study of the flooded areas will result in a damage estimate. If it exceeds $6.4 million, as state officials expect, Pawlenty will ask President Barack Obama to issue a presidential disaster declaration to authorize federal spending.

The special legislative session will follow the initial federal damage assessment to authorize spending to repair damage. Much of the early federal money will go to repairs roads and water and sewer systems.

Even if Obama declares an emergency, federal money for individuals affected by the floods still may not flow into Minnesota. And it will be harvest time or later before it is known if famers will receive federal aid.

Pawlenty has declared most southern Minnesota counties emergency areas: Blue Earth, Brown, Carver, Chippewa, Cottonwood, Dakota, Dodge, Faribault, Fillmore, Freeborn, Goodhue, Houston, Jackson, Lac Qui Parle, Le Sueur, Lincoln, Lyon, Martin, Mower, Murray, Nicollet, Nobles, Olmsted, Pipestone, Ramsey, Rice, Rock, Scott, Sibley, Steele, Wabasha, Waseca, Watonwan, Winona and Yellow Medicine.

The state Executive Council, composed of Minnesota’s statewide elected officials, on Monday approved extending Pawlenty’s week-long emergency declaration for 30 more days, giving state agencies authority to share manpower and equipment with affected communities.

Pawlenty said the state is expected to have $235 million available by the end of the budget cycle next June 30, and any state flood costs should be less than that.

While the governor called flooding “a major challenge for southern Minnesota,” he had no estimate of damages and officials would not say how damage compares to other recent Minnesota floods.

“These communities will be rebuilt,” Pawlenty promised.

Part of the reason state officials had few answers for what eventually will be needed is that rivers continue to rise in some places around Twin Cities, such as Hastings and St. Paul, and they do not know how much damage will occur.

Rain of up to a foot caused rapid river rises last week, and the water still is flowing downriver. Some roads in areas first hit by flooding are beginning to reopen, but others downstream now are closing as water inches over them.

Much remains to be decided, such as how much state cash flood efforts will need and how much money can be borrowed.

Pawlenty and House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher, DFL-Minneapolis, both said, “We stand united.”

Legislative leaders and Pawlenty emerged from the governor’s office Monday morning to say they agreed to the need for a special session and to emphasize the state will provide help as it has in past disasters.

“Once again tragedy has struck southern Minnesota,” Senate Minority Leader Dave Senjem, R-Rochester, said.

Three years ago, floods devastated many southeast Minnesota communities. This year’s floods stretch across the southern part of the state.

The 2007 flood resulted in a brief special session that sent $150 million to southeast Minnesota.

The governor said that he did not call a special session to help communities such as Wadena recover from June tornadoes because leaders there felt they could wait until the regular legislation session begins in January.

Also, most homeowners’ insurance covers tornado loses, while fewer Minnesotans carry flood insurance.

House Majority leader Tony Sertich, DFL-Chisholm, said flood damage needs to be repaired soon, before winter sets in, so an early special session is a necessity.

Sertich said he expects legislative committees to hold meetings days or hours before the short special session to gather public input. Pawlenty said he expects to agree on a flood-relief package before the session convenes.