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Request for federal aid made in wake of Northland flooding

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Lake County News Chronicle
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Request for federal aid made in wake of Northland flooding
Two Harbors Minnesota 109 Waterfront Dr. 55616

With flood damage estimates now at nearly $109 million for public infrastructure alone, Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton sent a request to President Obama last Friday for a disaster declaration for counties and tribes affected by the flooding last month.

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The request will include the nearly $2 million in damages in Lake County, mostly from washed out roads and bridges.

"I have no doubt it will be approved by the president and signed," Dayton said. "It's a question of when. It's typically two weeks, but we'll see if we can shorten that."

Dayton made the announcement after a visit to Duluth, where he met with numerous area officials to get an update on the damage and recovery. They toured the region with agents from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and Homeland Security. The declaration will pave the way for local governments and possibly others to apply for federal aid to help cover cleanup and restoration costs.

"We all recognize the urgency of the situation," Dayton said. "Everybody's taken the time, made the effort to see firsthand what the needs are. And like all the citizens here, (they've) been overwhelmed by the scope of the disaster."

Dayton also said there will be a special session to allocate money for flood relief, though he didn't say when.

"We'll have a special session as soon as we get the information together to assess correctly what needs to be done and where the money needs to be directed," he said.

BJ Kohlstedt, Lake County's director of emergency management, said that by comparison to other areas in the region, the county was "fortunate."

"Most of our damages are to roads," she said. There are a few homes and other structures that have been damaged. Some homes suffered septic failures or had driveways washed out.

But while public infrastructure would get financial fix-up assistance, aid for damage in private homes and businesses is a lot trickier to obtain.

"This public assistance would not cover individual homeowners," Kohlstedt said. "Unless they have flood insurance. And in Lake County, that is almost nobody."

She offered some ways people could get help if they were affected by the flooding:

Contact Lake County Emergency Management at 226-4444 or bj.kohlstedt@ co.lake.mn.us to be included on the list for individual assistance if it becomes available from FEMA. We'll need your cost estimate to repair the damage or replace ruined appliances.

Check the Lake County website at www.co.lake.mn.us for links and advice. Also the "MN Recovers" website has excellent state resources and information for flood victims. Those without internet access should call 226-4444 for an information packet in the mail.

Visit the Disaster Recovery Center at the DECC in Duluth 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. today through Monday to talk with representatives from several state agencies specializing in flood recovery. It will also help to talk with and learn from other flood victims.

The Highway 61 Expressway opened early this week at the Knife River after repairs were made to the bridge there.

There are four closures on secondary roads, most just north of Two Harbors.

Areas past Gooseberry Falls State Park and inland from Lake Superior did not get as much rain and suffered little damage, Lake County Administrator Matt Huddleston said.

Lake County got its FEMA visit June 27. Huddleston said that the damaged parts of the county would be eligible for any federal aid provided for the region. The county now estimates its damages at $1.9 million, mostly for new culverts and roadways.

Huddleston said there likely won't be money available for private property damage but state appropriations could cover them.

Rivers and streams have returned to normal flows, Kohlstedt said, and parks and businesses are running normally too. Some ATV and hiking trails have been washed away and those going out should check with trail clubs for dangerous areas.

Business help

The Duluth-based Northland Foundation - along with AgStar Financial Services, Blandin Foundation and Great River Energy - has established the Business Flood Recovery Fund to assist Northeastern Minnesota businesses affected by last month's flooding.

The money will be awarded as grants to businesses primarily in Aitkin, Carlton, St. Louis and southern Lake counties hardest hit by the June 19-20 rain and flood event.

Grants up to $5,000 will focus on the replacement or reconditioning of tangible assets including inventory, machinery, equipment, furniture, supplies and building and site repair. Applications will be reviewed on an ongoing basis with the goal of providing a response within two to four weeks. The final grant application deadline is Sept. 14, 2012. Money will be available for distribution until it's expended. Funds are limited, and applications will be considered on a first come, first served basis.

For more information contact Erik Torch, grant program manager, erik@northlandfdn.org or (218) 723-4040.

Cliffs donates

Cliffs Natural Resources, owners of the taconite facility in Silver Bay, announced this week a $25,000 contribution to the United Way Long Term Flood Recovery Fund.

"We are saddened by the devastating impact this flood has had on communities in the Duluth area, and hope this contribution will assist the hundreds of displaced families recover from the damage to their homes," said Dana Byrne, Cliffs' vice president of government and public affairs.

The United Way Long Term Flood Recovery Fund was established to help affected families with unmet needs after all other means of support have been exhausted.

Photo courtesy Dan Sathre

The Lake County Search and Rescue Squad gathered by the Knife River Recreation Center in the early morning hours June 20 to rescue people along a raging and overflowing river.

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