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Obama signs disaster declaration for Minnesota

President Obama signed a major disaster declaration for Minnesota today, freeing up millions of dollars in federal aid to help cities and counties hit by late-June storms.

The president's declaration covers 18 counties — including Fillmore and Houston. The federal dollars will help pay for repairing damaged roads and bridges, providing emergency services and removing debris.

A preliminary damage assessment determined there was $17.8 million in damages related to the storms that hit the state between June 20 and June 26. Houston County suffered the most damage to public infrastructure of any county in the state, with the total cost estimated at $6.4 million. Fillmore County's damage total was nearly $2 million. Other eligible counties are Benton, Big Stone, Douglas, Faribault, Freeborn, Grant, Hennepin, McLeod, Morrison, Pope, Sibley, Stearns, Stevens, Swift, Traverse and Wilkin.

As a result of the president's disaster declaration, the Federal Emergency Management Agency will cover 75 percent of the cost for damage to public infrastructure, according to the Minnesota Department of Public Safety. The remaining 25 percent is the responsibility of local governments.The disaster declaration also includes funding for the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program. This covers actions taken to prevent or reduce long-term risk to life and property from natural hazards. All counties in the state are eligible to apply for this funding.

Damage to roads and bridges account for half of the statewide damage total. Flash flooding in Houston County damaged 24 county bridges and 25 township bridges, according to Dayton's letter requesting the aid. Approximately 36 miles of townships roads were closed due to washouts.

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Mabel City Clerk Karen Larson said she was relieved when she got an email about the disaster declaration. Flash flooding wreaked havoc on the town's main park, causing an estimated $100,000 in damage. The softball field was ruined, picnic benches floated away and a floating shed tore through two fences and smashed against a nearby bridge. For a city with a population of 780, the price tag for fixing the damage to Steam Engine Park was daunting.

"Financially for the city, (the disaster declaration) is wonderful," Larson said. "If we had to put up $100,000 from our own budget that we didn't budget for, that's quite a bit."

The city had also feared it might have to cancel its annual Steam Engine Days on Sept. 7 and 8 due to the damage. But Larson said the community turned out in force last weekend to help clean up, and the city's two public works employees have been busy making repairs.

"They have been working very hard," she said. "I was just looking out at the park, and it looks so much better already."

Emergency work

$5 million for debris removal.

$1.8 million for emergency protective measures.

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Permanent repair work

$9 million for roads and bridges.

$1 million for water control facilities.

$243,474 for buildings and equipment.

$585,615 for utilities.

$73,780 for parks, recreational facilities and other items.

Source: Minnesota Department of Public Safety

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