Flood relief to homeowners and businesses for damages not covered by insurance will not be coming from federal grants.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) on Wednesday denied Gov. Mark Dayton’s request to add individual assistance to the federal major disaster declaration, which came in the wake of the severe June rainstorm that inundated northeastern counties.
Six northeastern Minnesota counties — including Aitkin and Crow Wing counties — and the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa were submitted for the individual assistance program.
“I believe this was the wrong decision, and I am deeply disappointed,” Dayton said in a news release late Wednesday afternoon. “We will begin working on an appeal immediately.”
Thirteen counties and three tribal nations were declared a major federal disaster area after severe storms dumped torrential rain on the state. Flooding was both dramatic, as small streams turned into violently churning water capable of destroying roads, and methodical as draining watersheds pushed the Mississippi River into major flooding status.
FEMA reported the preliminary home damage assessments conducted from July 11-18 did not find damage of “such severity and magnitude as to warrant” implementing the individual assistance program. The governor’s office reported the preliminary damage assessments reveal more than $108 million in costs and damages to public infrastructure in the 13-county area, including Aitkin and Crow Wing counties and the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe.
The federal disaster declaration provides assistance to state and local government and some nonprofits for emergency work and damage repair.
The individual assistance program would have provided disaster case management, legal services, unemployment assistance and crisis counseling. Dayton asked for the program for Aitkin, Carlton, Crow Wing, Lake, Pine and St. Louis counties, as well as the Fond du Lac Band.
FEMA’s denial also had Crow Wing County officials considering next steps.
“We are going to reach back out to individuals who contacted us with damages,” said John Bowen, county emergency management director. “There are options to try and relieve the damages people are dealing with.”
“It’s unfortunate,” Bowen said of FEMA’s denial. “We were hoping it would come through.”
Bowen said the county still has options to work with people and seek state assistance. A special Legislative session is anticipated in August to deal with the flood damage, and potentially the heavy storm damage in July that toppled acres of trees in Cass County.
Bowen said a long-term recovery group is looking at damages in 15 counties in northeastern Minnesota.
In Crow Wing County, flood damages have typically been hidden inside homes. Assessors from Crow Wing County have been out looking at damages and estimated losses. Gary Griffin, county land services supervisor for property valuation and classification, said about 30 homeowners have called with damage so far and five have structural damage with foundations compromised as basement walls collapsed. Others have experienced damage to floors and furnaces and were left with moldy Sheetrock. Griffin said no one reported main level flooding.
Estimated damages, typically to basements, have ranged from $7,000 to $20,000. Griffin said if the damage to homesteaded property is more than 50 percent of the home’s value, the homeowner would be eligible for a tax refund this year. If a smaller percentage is damaged, the homeowner could receive a disaster relief credit on taxes payable in 2013, pending county board approval.
Griffin said some homeowners measured water in their basements by a couple of inches and others had water a couple of feet deep.
“We’ve only seen one place where they needed to move out for the mold remedy,” Griffin said. “Luckily we were somewhat blessed we didn’t have what some of the other counties experienced.”
If the county has 25 homes with a minimum of $5,000 damage, it would be eligible for 75 percent reimbursement of tax abatements and credits.
If a tornado had damaged homes, the owners would typically be covered by insurance. But flood insurance is a different situation and people not living in a flood plain may not have imagined they’d need it.
Griffin said one county resident had their farm house on 80 acres without a pond or stream in sight. But a road culvert backed up, washed out a road and pushed water into the farm yard and house, collapsing a basement wall. Then the water melted away.
“It’s just amazing to see a photo of the water that’s in front of this house and to see the collapsed basement wall,” Griffin said. “If you looked at the house from the front, you’d never know there was any water. It’s like it never was there if you never knew the basement had two feet of water in it.”
People who have flood damage are encouraged to call the county’s property valuation and classification office at 824-1010.
“We really are encouraging people to call us, maybe they think it’s really minimal,” Griffin said of damage. “If there is relief, we can provide it.”
U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar, Sen. Al Franken, and Rep. Chip Cravaack released a statement supporting Dayton’s move to appeal FEMA’s denial.
“We support Governor Dayton’s action to appeal the decision to deny individual assistant and will be urging FEMA to swiftly consider this appeal. We will continue to work with federal, state and local officials to help families and businesses in northeast Minnesota recover.”