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Federal aid on its way to southwest Minnesota for flood-related damage

The Minnesota State Patrol blocks traffic on U.S. 59 just north of Lake Sarah Baptist Church in Murray County during June flooding. (Tim Middagh/The Globe)1 / 2
Submerged diesel tanks at the Prairie Pride Cenex in Slayton were a concern during June flooding. (Tim Middagh/The Globe)2 / 2

REGIONAL — Southwest Minnesota counties will receive aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), as President Donald Trump approved a disaster declaration for the state Wednesday.

With the declaration secured, FEMA will begin the process of calculating the cost of remedying damages to public infrastructure caused by storms and flooding from June 15 to July 11 in the affected counties, including Nobles, Rock, Murray, Cottonwood, Pipestone and Jackson counties.

Gov. Mark Dayton had requested a total of $21 million in aid, including $1.9 million for hard-hit Murray County, based on preliminary damage estimates. The actual amount paid out will be calculated in the coming months as FEMA visits with the affected areas, according to Dan Shulman, Director of Legislative Affairs for FEMA Region V in Chicago.

Shulman said large-scale projects that haven’t been started yet likely won’t get done until next year. However, in instances where repairs were already made and the local government simply need to be reimbursed, money could come in sooner rather than later.

“Our goal is to move forward as quickly as possible,” he said.

In Nobles County, officials originally estimated the public damage at $450,102, but preliminary damage estimates increased to $528,312, and final numbers could grow further.

“When FEMA came out, they identified even more expenses than we initially had anticipated,” Nobles County Emergency Management Director Joyce Jacobs said. “As they sit down with city and township officials, they work out what kind of expenses can qualify for reimbursement … and they might find more expenses that qualify.”

Among damaged public property in Nobles County was the bicycle path along Sunset Bay in Olson Park (which the city aims to fix by the end of the calendar year), the new water quality pond at the former Prairie View Golf Links, the Buffalo Ridge Regional Rail Authority’s railroad tracks by Adrian, and roads and culverts. Additional expenses were submitted for pumping the lagoon in the Leota Sanitary District.

Most of the damage to roads was done to rural gravel roads, which have generally been fixed around the county. As townships already have receipts in hand for the road work, FEMA will be able to reimburse them quickly.

“We were waiting and anticipating to hopefully get the good news, and this is definitely good news for our townships and cities that had some significant damage, especially when you think about how small some of the township budgets are,” Jacobs said.

Township officials were among some of the happiest people to hear that the disaster declaration was approved. In Murray County, roads and bridges — including dozens of township roads — sustained more than $1.3 million in damage, according to preliminary damage estimates.

In the hard-hit Lake Sarah and Shetek townships, which cover Lake Sarah and Lake Shetek in northern Murray County, nearly all of the gravel roads have been fixed, but larger projects will have to wait.

“We’ve got culverts to put in and a bridge to fix … we’ve also got a lot of ditch reconstruction to do, and that’s going to be a long, expensive deal, so that is definitely going to wait until after the end of the year,” Lake Sarah Supervisor Vernon Carlson said.

Murray County Engineer Randy Groves said more than 90 percent of work on county roads has been done. Murray County 13 near Lake Shetek was the most badly damaged, as it was receiving a new overlay when the storm hit.

Public damage was severe in Cottonwood and Jackson counties, with preliminary estimates coming to $594,645 and $598,645, respectively. Once again, roads were the bulk of the damage, while local governments also spent a lot on protective measures such as sandbagging.

Rock County (estimated at $270,247 in expenses) and Pipestone County ($129,332) fared better than their neighbors.

Though the federal aid authorized by FEMA will only cover expenses for local governments and certain nonprofit organizations, it should be noted that private businesses, farms and homes were hit hard, too.

Homes along lakes and rivers generally didn’t fare well, such as those on Lake Shetek or along the Des Moines River in Jackson and Windom. Businesses located in ditches of sorts — such as Prairie Pride Cenex and U.S. 59 Auction Service in Slayton — faced serious flood damage.

Area golf courses accompanied by water didn’t fare well, either. The Slayton Country Club sustained massive damage due to overflowing from Beaver Creek, which runs all the way through the course.

That’s where the Small Business Administration (SBA) could help. The federal agency authorized a disaster declaration Aug. 29 and has since set up offices in Redwood and Lyon counties, offering low-interest disaster loans to small businesses, farmers, homeowners and renters in the neighboring Cottonwood, Murray and Pipestone counties.

Applicants can apply online using the Electronic Loan Application (ELA) via SBA’s secure website at DisasterLoan.sba.gov or contact the agency at 1-800-659-2955. The deadline to apply for loans covering physical property damage is Oct. 29, 2018, while the deadline for economic injury loans is May 28, 2019.

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