It has been more than two weeks since heavy rains devastated our region and while clean-up and recovery efforts are well under way, we all realize there are many challenging weeks ahead. I am proud of the way we’ve all worked together as a community thus far. I want to specially thank all of our region’s youth who have provided tremendous support to all our devastated friends and neighbors. Because of our local collaborations and efforts, the federal and state response to our local needs already has been tremendous. I have spent the past week meeting with officials and touring damage, and I am confident about the progress we’re already making.
Duluth received a lot of media attention in the first hours after the flood, and rightfully so. Those of us living further downstream made sure the state would understand the full size of the disaster, though, and I’m proud of our ability to highlight our communities’ needs. The Governor and Senator Al Franken each spent five hours traveling through the southern portion of the disaster in Pine and Carlton counties this week, seeing firsthand the challenges that are facing our local homeowners and business owners. The administration sent no less than three commissioners to witness our local efforts and pledge support, and the group of legislators that visited last week also received a thorough briefing about the full range of damage. The people of our region have effectively worked together to make sure our needs are known, and that will make all the difference in moving forward.
After the visits and seeing the devastation first hand, all are in agreement that a special legislative session will be necessary, and we will have one. I caution that it will take time, though, as we need to be sure we understand the full scope and nature of this disaster and how best to respond. We will have limited time to gather for a special session, and we want to make sure we’re using that time to pass the best-possible package of aid for the public infrastructure, businesses and, certainly, for struggling homeowners.
The initial Federal Emergency Management Agency meetings were held in Carlton and Pine counties this past week. Carlton County is providing an initial, conservative estimate of more than $30 million in public infrastructure damage, not including homeowners. Put into context: The threshold for Carlton County to receive a federal disaster declaration was only $119,000. This flood has well exceeded that requirement. In Pine County, $1.5 million in public infrastructure damage is predicted, also well exceeding the initial disaster-declaration threshold of $100,000.
Governor Dayton finished the letter defining the scope of damage in our region and sent it off for approval and signature by the President, making the disaster declaration official. That will open up financial resources and begin the first steps toward addressing the needs in our area. This first step will secure a disaster declaration for public infrastructure, but the request to qualify individual areas as disaster areas will not be sent until July 13. That declaration is more difficult to secure; in order to make sure our communities and homeowners receive necessary attention, it is crucial that anyone who has suffered damage notifies local and state officials as soon as possible. Businesses also need to register with the state Department of Employment and Economic Development so the full scope of damage is accurately reported. The opportunity for individuals to receive FEMA assistance hinges on this second step so, please if you have been impacted and haven’t reported the damage, or know of someone else in the area who hasn’t alerted officials, please step forward.
This will be a long, difficult process, and I continue to be committed to working with those involved to make Minnesota the best partner possible in recovery efforts. I’ve spent this week visiting with many people whose homes have been destroyed, but their spirits are not broken. A phrase I heard over and over again at some of the most damaged homes was, “Oh yeah, I was hit, but not as hard as my neighbor. I’m really worried about them.” That resilient attitude is going to make all the difference in this process. Our communities have come together in a manner that’s heartening, and that’s one of the reasons that continues to make me so proud to represent this corner of Northeastern Minnesota.
Please don’t hesitate to contact me if you have any questions, concerns or requests. I may be reached at email@example.com; 651-296-0293; or at 100 Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd., St. Paul, MN 55155.