ND leaders work to resolve Minot flood recovery issues

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Senators John Hoeven and Kent Conrad, Congressman Rick Berg and Governor Jack Dalrymple, along with Minot community leaders, yesterday met with Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Administrator Craig Fugate and other agency officials to discuss a number of issues impacting recovery efforts in Minot.

Senator Hoeven organized the meeting to provide an opportunity for officials from the city, school district, and park district to highlight several issues they are confronting with FEMA in the recovery process.

Specifically, the North Dakota leaders expressed concern with miscommunication within FEMA that has resulted in mistakes, such as the weatherization of the temporary housing units on private sites and the billing for water and sewer utilities at the temporary housing units.

In addition, the North Dakota leaders called on FEMA to be flexible with regard to relocating Minot’s Eric Ramstad Middle School and consolidating Lincoln Elementary School with the Lewis and Clark School in north Minot.

The school district is seeking reimbursement for the cost of relocating the Ramstad School onto another site in north Minot. FEMA, however, hasn’t approved the request at the regular reimbursement. They say a new school in the current location will be in a protected area once the city’s flood protection plan is in place. Similarly, the school district has asked the agency to approve a plan to add the square footage of the Lincoln Elementary School to the Lewis and Clark School in north Minot. School officials say consolidating the two buildings will be more cost effective.

Fugate said he would consider if the schools would qualify for “alternative” program funding, which would enable the school district to receive the full 90 percent reimbursement instead of a lesser amount.

The Minot Park District is also asking FEMA for more flexibility in classifying large and small flood projects throughout the city and wants the agency to reconsider its criteria for making decisions. Small projects are reimbursed immediately, whereas large projects are reimbursed based on actual costs once contracts are bid and actual costs are determined.

To date, some of the documentation for the parks’ projects is incomplete, and Fugate said he’d dispatch a team to the city to help do an item-by-item assessment of each project to ensure that the proper paperwork is completed to secure funding. He also said he’d provide FEMA District VIII Administrator Robin Finegan with the resources she needs to help the park director finish the documentation process expeditiously.

“We need to work together on the federal, state and local level on housing and other recovery efforts, as well as on a permanent flood protection project for the Minot region,” the delegation and governor said. “This meeting was about coordinating those efforts, and making sure we’re doing everything possible to develop a comprehensive plan and move it forward as quickly as possible.”

The delegation has also been pressing the agency to maximize Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP) dollars to buy out homes at risk for flooding. In October, Fugate assigned Associate Administrator for Federal Insurance and Mitigation David Miller, who pledged to work with city, county and state officials, to develop such a plan.

Fugate said the earlier the city can identify specific mitigation projects, the sooner the agency can move funding. He said FEMA could include provisions to buy out houses as part of a comprehensive flood protection plan. The delegation and governor said the state hopes to have consensus on a design for the city’s preferred flood protection project by the end of February. Senator Hoeven said he would gather the group together again after that to advance the plan.

More than 11,000 Minot residents were forced to evacuate their homes last spring, and city officials report that as many as 4,000 homes in neighborhoods nearest the river were damaged by flood waters. Some continue to be at risk and should be bought out, state and local officials say.

In addition to the delegation, governor and Administrator Fugate, also attending today’s meeting were Minot Mayor Curt Zimbelman, Minot Schools Superintendent Mark Vollmer, Minot Director of Parks Ron Merritt, Minot Flood Recovery Coordinator General Murray Sagsveen, N.D. Adjutant General David Sprynczynatyk, FEMA Associate Administrator for Federal Insurance and Mitigation Dave Miller, and FEMA Region VIII Administrator Robin Finegan.

Sources: Offices of Governor Dalrymple, Senator Hoeven, Senator Conrad & Representative Berg

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