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Leaders are standing tall in time of crisis

It’s unfair to compare the Katrina disaster, which occurred two years ago, to the flooding in southeastern Minnesota.

Katrina was the most devestating storm to hit our country in recorded history, while last month’s flood was contained to a much smaller area and affected far fewer people.

Nonetheless, southeastern Minnesota should feel fortunate that state and local officials — unlike those along the Gulf Coast in 2005 — appear to have done nearly everything right in the aftermath of the storm.

Led by Gov. Tim Pawlenty, government officials in our state have acted quickly to get flood victims the help they so desperately need.

Pawlenty first used his pull as a highly respected Republican governor to have several countyies in the flood-stricken area declared national disaster areas by the Bush administration before a preliminary damage assessment had been completed.

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Since then, the governor and other state officials have made a series of prudent moves to expedite the recovery process in places such as Rushford, Hokah and Stockton. They include:

• The implementation of a program through the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency to provide grants, loans and other forms of financial assistance to homeowners, based on income and need.

• Gov. Pawlenty, Rep. Tim Walz and Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Norm Coleman visited the flooded areas within hours after the rains stopped. Homeland Security Director Michael Chertoff was also in the region.

• A special legislative session is being planned to develop an aid package for those affected by the flood.

• A Web site (www.minnesotarecovers.org) has been set up to provide information about recovery efforts and help available to individuals and businesses affected by the flood.

• The acceleration of local government aid payments to cities affected by the flood. Normally, local government aid payments from the state are made twice a year, in July and December. But the Pawlenty administration announced last week that the December payments would be made immediately to flood stricken cities.

Finally, Pawlenty has indicated that he favors a plan, supported by some DFLers, to establish a permanent disaster relief fund that could be used to help the victims of floods and other storms without the calling of a special legislative session.

Certainly there have been missteps in the flood recovery effort. Many homeowners in Rushford had to wait days before being allowed into their homes by FEMA inspectors, for example.

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But by most accounts the response to the disaster by the Pawlenty administration and other state and local leaders been prompt and thorough.

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Downtown without Lourdes?

While Lourdes High School officials have not announced where they intend to build their new school, and while they certainly have the right to build where they see fit, we hope they’ll seriously consider a site close to the central city.

Lourdes has been located in downtown Rochester for generations, and ideally would remain centrally located for generations to come. We understand the desire for upgraded facilities, for adjacent athletic fields, for easy access by motor vehicle. Lourdes, its faculty and students deserve all of that.

On the other hand, the loss of yet another attractive building from downtown Rochester, and along with it the presence of 500 young people and the vitality brought to the central city by a high school, is a blow to the community. Rochester’s growth is, unfortunately, following the pattern of growth in so many other cities by sprawling along roadways, gobbling up open fields and in the process creating longer commutes and higher costs for municipal services.

That’s not Lourdes’ fault. In fact, a new Rochester public elementary school, if approved by voters this fall, will be built on the northwest outskirts of the city. But in a more perfect world, Lourdes would take a hard look at reversing that trend, at retaining a central location, at keeping a vital component of Rochester near the heart of the city.

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