State lawmakers join those preparing for spring floods

Published 8:48 am Friday, March 8, 2019

By Brian Bakst

MPR News/90.1 FM

It’s not unusual for the spring melt in Minnesota to put officials on alert for flooding. Sometimes it’s the Red River basin in the northwest, the Minnesota River Valley in south-central areas, or the Mississippi River as it snakes through the Twin Cities and toward Iowa.

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The danger zone this year?

“From Rock County to Cook County, from Houston County to Kittson County — the entire state because there is so much snow sitting out there,” said Kevin Reed, deputy director of the Homeland Security and Emergency Management division of the state Department of Public Safety.

“It really just depends on where the melt happens. I can’t say there’s a hot spot. But every large river is something we’re looking at,” he said.

Reed appeared before a Minnesota House committee Wednesday to explain why lawmakers should replenish a disaster contingency account with $10 million. It would cover expenses and possible local reimbursements between now and July.

Reed encountered little resistance, and the committee approved the legislation containing the money.

Rep. Duane Sauke, DFL-Rochester, admitted he’s nervous about what this spring will bring for southern Minnesota, which has been walloped by snowstorm after snowstorm.

“We’re going to have a few of our major streams that are going to start to flow and they will cut loose some ice chunks and we’re going to wind up with damming in lots of places,” Sauke said. “And we will be running around wondering how we’re going to respond [to] that emergency.”

Rep. Sandy Layman, R-Cohasset, asked whether $10 million is enough.

“It’s better to be safe than sorry and this is an account that we can anticipate with unexpected weather events and what we’ve experienced so far that I would certainly be in favor of looking at additional funding,” she said.

The state won’t cover all the damage from possible floods. Private insurance will absorb some costs, so could the feds depending on how bad things get.

There’s a danger to parking too much money in an emergency account — especially in a budget-setting year, said Rep. Tim Mahoney, DFL-St. Paul.

“If there’s a pot of money laying around — and it is both sides of the aisle, and senior and freshmen — it will get grabbed,” Mahoney said.

Reed said the $10 million will provide a running start for flood responders. But does he think it’ll take care of the possible needs?

“That all depends on Mother Nature,” he said.