Emotions run high in disaster legislative session meetings

Zumbro Falls Mayor Alan VanDeWalker tells a Senate committee meeting this morning about his community’s extensive flood damage, watched by Sen. Ann Lynch of Rochester.

Zumbro Falls Mayor Alan VanDeWalker’s voice cracked as he told a Senate committee this morning about last month’s flood.

“This has basically wiped out my town,” the 20-year veteran mayor said as state lawmakers began to look into funding disaster relief for southern Minnesota floods and a June 17 tornado outbreak.

All businesses in the southeast Minnesota community were wiped out, along with half of the homes.

It was the beginning of a series of emotional comments to committees throughout the morning.

The committee also heard from Wadena Mayor Wayne Wolden, who said more than 200 homes were destroyed or heavily damaged in the record June tornado event.

Wadena wants to build a new community center to replace several facilities destroyed in June, including a hockey rink and swimming pool.

“The fun things to do in Wadena are gone,” Wolden said.

Legislators today looked at an $80 million disaster appropriation during what was supposed to be a special session that lasts for just a few hours.

Most of the money would go to southern Minnesotans who endured floods last month, but $6.6 million is set aside for Wanda and other areas affected by the June tornadoes.

Legislative committee meetings throughout the morning were to culminate with a 1 p.m. special legislative session that Gov. Tim Pawlenty and legislative leaders said should be limited to nothing more than disaster response.

Much of the funding is to fill the gap left after federal money pays 75 percent of costs to repair or replace public facilities ranging from buildings to roads to debris removal. There also are funds in the bill, which legislative leaders and Pawlenty agreed to last week, to help schools that face the prospect of fewer students and higher transportation costs from the disasters, as well as tax breaks and deadline extensions for some of those affected.

The only federal aid approved for individuals is a low-interest loan program from the Small Business Administration. The SBA also will provide loans to businesses of any size and non-profit organizations.

A broader federal program to help individuals affected by floods was not approved, but the still bill does target some money to individuals.

Some legislators have talked about passing other bills, primarily one getting tough on bullying in schools. However, legislative leaders frowned on that and pledged to limit the session to disaster relief.

Wadena Mayor Wayne Wolden tells a Senate committee Monday that the community needs state aid to recover from a June 17 tornado that destroyed or badly damaged more than 200 homes, with 10 business buildings torn down.

Four senators who thought they were done with legislative committee work because they are not seeking re-election were among those hearing a disaster-relief funding bill Monday. From left are Sens. Steve Murphy of Red Wing, Steve Dille of Dassel, Jim Vickerman of Tracy and Pat Pariseau of Farmington.