By Don Davis
More Minnesota counties likely will be added to a presidential flood disaster declaration.
President Barack Obama on Monday declared eight of 51 counties that experienced flood damage this summer as eligible for federal disaster aid. However, Gov. Mark Dayton’s office reports that more counties are expected to join the list as local officials complete their damage assessment.
Dayton said that he initiated the disaster response process before all county damage totals were available to speed federal money to the state.
So far, the Federal Emergency Management Agency reports $37.1 million in damages from floods that begin on June 11. That is nearly $30 million more than needed for Obama to declare a disaster.
The eight counties on the list so far are Chippewa, Freeborn, Jackson, Murray, Nobles, Pipestone, Renville and Rock, mostly southern and western Minnesota rural areas. State Emergency Services Director Kris Eide has said the most expensive damage is in the Twin Cities area.
Federal aid that will follow Obama’s declaration will help local governments pay for flood-related costs such as debris removal, road repairs and fixing other public facilities like parks and water treatment plants.
Washington reimburses 75 percent of disaster costs, with the state picking up the rest. Dayton said that he may call a special legislative session to fund the state portion, but has not decided about the issue, and does not know when a session might occur.
The presidential declaration allows all Minnesota local governments to apply for funds to prevent or reduce future disaster risks to life and property.
While it is possible some aid will be made available to individuals and businesses, the Obama declaration only applies to state and local governments.
“Weeks of torrential downpour this summer triggered devastating flooding that inflicted severe damage all across our state,” Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., said. “This disaster declaration will deliver critical funding and support to communities impacted by flooding and help our state rebuild and recover.”
U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., called Obama’s decision “a necessary first step to helping residents in the affected counties get back on their feet.”
State officials have called the June flooding, which remains a problem in parts of the state, the most widespread disaster the state has experienced. More than half the state’s 87 counties reported damage.