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More ice storm relief funds could come

WORTHINGTON -- There is potential for more disaster relief funding coming to Nobles and Rock counties in southwest Minnesota.

On Wednesday, Gov. Mark Dayton and legislative leaders agreed to have a special session, which is slated for Sept. 9.

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"It would focus only on disaster relief for southeastern Minnesota counties," Dayton said in his press conference. "I would hope -- that has to be negotiated by the committee leaders -- but I would hope it would include Nobles and Rock counties, the southwestern counties who suffered their own disaster last winter with the ice storm."

As part of that session, disaster relief for 18 counties hit by storms in late June will be discussed. The goal is to pass an estimated $4.7 million for the June 20-26 storm.

"We need to take care of the disaster issues," said District 22 Sen. Bill Weber, R-Luverne. "I understand that. It seems to me in a $38 billion budget, we should be able to find the money that's needed without special session."

However, the counties affected in southwest Minnesota are hoping for a push for more disaster relief dollars related to the April ice storm.

According to Matt Swenson, press secretary for Dayton, there will be a disaster relief bill, the parameters of which to be determined by a working group that will meet during the special session. The group will consider $1.1 million for Rock and Nobles counties.

"This isn't changing some tax provision, this is the same issue," Worthington City Administrator Craig Clark said. "Yeah, it was a different storm, but it was still storm-related.

"It's important to have them not wait until the regular session to address their needs, why would Worthington be different?" Clark continued. "Our storm actually happened before theirs. Storm is storm; disaster is disaster."

In a letter from Nobles County Emergency Management Director Joyce Jacobs to Dayton, the county is asking for $834,451 from Minnesota Recovers, a task force created for local governments to seek recovery assistance following a disaster.

Rock County submitted $243,466 to Minnesota Recovers, according to that letter. That total was confirmed by Kyle Oldre, Rock County Administrator and Emergency Management Director.

"We haven't asked for any more at this point," Oldre said. "We're still waiting to hear back from Minnesota Recovers. We put in a request for that and they acknowledged receipt of that back in early July, and we're kind of still waiting to hear on how that comes out. If they come back and say 'you're not going to get anything through that,' then certainly our attitude will change. We're waiting on word from the state on how much additional money we're going to get besides the FEMA money."

The letter, signed by cities and mayors throughout Nobles County, explained the county identified expenses not covered by FEMA.

"As you can see, there is a lot of work left to be done to bring our communities back to a pre-disaster state," the letter concluded. "As a coalition of southwest Minnesotans, we appreciated the funds we have received, but we are respectfully asking that during the upcoming special session, that you consider our request as part of the disaster relief package to help move forward in our recovery process."

Dayton said it was the letter that spurred the progress.

"We just got a letter the week before last from Nobles County and on behalf of Rock County," Dayton said. "They just made their requests very recently. They had local expenditures that exceeded the limit that they received funding for, and that's what they're asking us to pick up."

As of Wednesday afternoon, Oldre said he hadn't heard back from Minnesota Recovers as far as how the money would be divided.

"We're kind of just waiting to see what we do get from there before we pursue other options," he said. "The local communities do have some responsibility here, too. The state or federal government shouldn't be on the hook for 100 percent."

According to Julie Anderson, External Affairs Coordinator for Homeland Security and Emergency Management, the committee has met and applications are being reviewed. She said each applicant should received a determination within the next few weeks.

The letter was also copied to local legislators.

"The governor did receive it, I was copied on that letter and not only received an acknowledgement that not only did the governor receive it, but both leadership in the House and Senate are aware of that as well," District 22B Rep. Rod Hamilton, R-Mountain Lake, said. "I am under the understanding that the talk is there is going to have a Ways and Means Committee meeting to discuss this and the rest of the disaster relief package. Nobles County and the surrounding counties down in our neck of the woods are on the radar."

In St. Paul, those local legislators are working to push the money through for the five-county area.

"I think we recognize that many people in the community have already experienced individual burdens because they have had to eat a lot of those costs that are out there," Weber said. "There's a whole number of issues that need to be addressed. In the upcoming couple of weeks -- between now and the special session -- hopefully we'll be able to sit down and work some of those things out."

According to Hamilton, the issue will be discussed in detail.

"What they want to do is have an open discussion on what the dollar amounts are and what it is for to make sure it is in line with what has historically been picked up by the state portion for a disaster relief," he said. "They want to have a complete, open and transparent discussion on this through the committee process. Then subsequently, it will be sent to the floor and we'll debate it, discuss it and vote on it on Sept. 9."

Hamilton added that including southwest Minnesota is the right thing to do.

"We know there are people back home who have worked extremely hard on this, not only cleaning up and getting the area put back to as close to the natural state as it was, but also to dive into this and see what it did cost the area in order to right this wrong," he said. "It makes sense to do one disaster relief package now versus waiting until session starts to come back and take another bite at the apple then."