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FEMA's ice storm damage estimate: $26.2 million

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News Worthington,Minnesota 56187 http://www.dglobe.com/sites/all/themes/dglobe_theme/images/social_default_image.png
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FEMA's ice storm damage estimate: $26.2 million
Worthington Minnesota 300 11th Street / P.O. Box 639 56187

WORTHINGTON -- According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), more than $26 million worth of damage was done across southwest Minnesota during the April winter storm.

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In a letter to President Barack Obama, Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton on Friday asked that a major disaster be declared for the state.

"Whole communities were effectively shut down for several days, with limited public services and virtually no private amenities," Dayton wrote. "Thousands of detached and hanging tree branches, known colloquially as 'widow makers,' blocked roadways and presented a significant safety hazard. City, county and state parks and campgrounds are closed as a safety measure until the debris and dangerous hanging tree limbs can be removed."

Attached to the letter was a breakdown of damage estimates from meetings conducted April 22-24 in the five counties affected by the storm -- Cottonwood, Jackson, Murray, Nobles and Rock -- and divided into categories.

The total was $26,200,391 for the five-county area. To qualify for a federal disaster declaration, the area had to have more than $7.2 million of damage.

Along with Dayton's letter to Obama, U.S. Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken, along with U.S. Rep. Tim Walz, sent a memo to Obama to urge him to sign the declaration.

"We saw firsthand the damage caused by this storm when we toured the region along with Governor Dayton just days after the event," the letter read. "Across the five-county area, there was significant damage to the region's electric distribution system with miles of downed power lines, and expansive tree damage requiring a costly debris removal and disposal effort."

In the report, the utilities had damage of more than $19 million, with debris removal and emergency protective measures at more than $3 million each.

Nobles County was hit the hardest, in terms of damage totals. The county had $16.04 million worth of damage; Jackson had $6.05 million in damages; Murray $2.37 million; Rock slightly more than $1.05 million; and Cottonwood $467,503.

Worthington, Nobles County's largest city, sustained an estimated $1.525 million in damage. Of that number, approximately $1.2 million is for debris removal -- a figure that includes a bid for $603,375 for cleanup to Ceres Environmental Services and $350,000 for site management to the Nobles County Landfill.

"That is an estimate off of what it's going to cost us to get all the fallen branches out of town, dispose of them, trim the trees and address those things in the boulevard," Worthington City Administrator Craig Clark said.

After Mayor Alan Oberloh declared an emergency, the city was allowed to hire private contractors for up to 70 hours of work. That cost, estimated at $200,000, was included in the debris removal numbers.

"We did a length analysis of how fast they were moving, and they started at 1 p.m. Friday, so we knew how long it took them to get from A to B," Clark said. "We knew how many blocks there are in the community and extrapolated that by the road miles in town. We had a formula figured out based on an actual estimate.

"Our private contractors did get a lot of debris out," Clark added. "They did really good work."

Both bids were awarded based on 50,000 cubic yards of debris, meaning the actual costs could change depending on the actual quantities.

"The bids are on estimated quantities. If they do 60,000 cubic yards, it's still at that haul rate," Clark said. "If it comes in at 60,000 cubic yards, that $1.5 million will be higher. It's not a fixed bid like, 'Go build us this road, and you're locked into that bid.'"

The city had $50,000 in protective measures in conjunction with this storm.

"That's for like traffic control for when the crews were out," Clark explained. "They were providing safety and traffic control, plus hours specifically toward public safety. We did call out the volunteer firemen for assistance."

Under utilities on the sheets the city presented to FEMA, an estimated $275,000 was listed.

"The diesel generation, obviously, is a big component of that," Clark said. "They lost a pedestal cabinet that burnt up, and that was like $20,000. That kind of equipment doesn't come cheap. They have overtime hours with the monitoring of the power that we had with the rolling blackouts."

The generators that provided power during those few days were running for 92 hours and used 62,462 gallons of diesel gasoline.

There will still be more costs, including a bid for regulatory management oversight of the cleanup operations. That will be awarded at an emergency council meeting Tuesday night.

"We're trying to coordinate the oversight management for regulatory compliance with FEMA and getting that (request for proposal) out," Clark said. "We need that in place in order to turn Ceres loose. We're also going to have training time to get their folks up to speed if there are people they are utilizing in addition. We're hoping to be back on streets by Friday."

The deadline for branches to be put on the boulevard is May 31, and the annual city-wide spring cleanup will still happen, though a rescheduled date has not yet been decided. As crews continue to work, they will make multiple passes around the city, Clark said.

"While we're abundantly appreciative of the potential for federal assistance of the 75 percent (federally) and the 25 percent (from the state), it's important to note this is for reimbursable expenses. There are a lot of things that are not reimbursable," Clark said. "There will be a significant cost for our community currently and going forward that won't be covered by both federal and state dollars. While we're greatly appreciative of the help potentially being declared, it's important that we'll still have a significant impact locally."

As another step was cleared Friday with Dayton's letter, there are still more steps to be taken before an official disaster declaration. According to the officials from FEMA and Homeland Security Emergency Management who met with the city last week, the documents will be sent to a regional office in Chicago before being passed to the White House.

"After a disaster strikes Minnesota, we hit the ground running and do not stop until we have the resources in place to ensure that communities can recover," Franken, Klobuchar and Walz wrote. "We will continue to push for all available assistance at the federal level until the recovery is complete."

Daily Globe Community Content Coordinator Aaron Hagen can be reached at 376-7323.

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