Damage estimates presented to state, federal officials

Published 8:59 pm Monday, May 13, 2019

Officials in Freeborn County presented damage estimates to state and federal officials on Monday tied to the severe weather and flooding in March and April.

Visiting with representatives of the Minnesota Department of Public Safety Homeland Security and Emergency Management division and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, leaders of cities and townships in the county, county officials and utility company leaders discussed the damages received to their infrastructure, along with costs for additional staffing needed during the emergencies.

Freeborn-Mower Cooperative Services President and CEO Jim Krueger said the cooperative is estimating about $3 million in damages from the April ice and wind storm, though that number will likely rise because there are about a dozen utility companies that haven’t invoiced yet for their work during the recovery.

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The event led to prolonged outages in all of the cooperative’s rural substations and a shorter outage in Albert Lea, Krueger said. At the peak, 12,000 members were without power.

Freeborn County Public Works Director Sue Miller said the county sustained substantial damage in March when gravel roads began to thaw at the surface and snow and rain created instantaneous runoff and washed out roads.

The county spent about $75,000 in material costs for temporary fixes to keep roads passable, and then road restrictions were put in place.

She estimated at least $350,000 in damages that would be eligible for FEMA funding for roads.

Miller said road restrictions were taken off Monday and roads are slowly improving, but noted it will take the summer to get the roads up to the standard they were last summer.

For the weather event in April when ice and wind led to power outages and hundreds of downed poles, she said the county utilized highway department staff for emergency services and to barricade roads.

Seventy-five road signs were broken off, and at least 200 will need to be repaired. Many signs are twisted and will need to be straightened.

Clarks Grove Mayor Bruce Hansen said his city ran a generator and opened a shelter at the city’s fire station, where between a dozen and 15 people stayed overnight. Though the city cannot claim time for having the shelter opened — since it was operated by volunteer firefighters and a representative of the Salvation Army — it can claim the time it ran the generator.

The preliminary damage assessments are taking place in 50 counties in Minnesota as information is gathered for Gov. Tim Walz to request a major presidential disaster declaration for public assistance.

Freeborn, Mower, Steele, Waseca and Faribault counties are included in the counties that will complete assessments. The process is expected to take several weeks.

Homeland Security and Emergency Management FEMA will view the damage and collect the cost estimates from county officials. They also review local emergency response records and compile totals for all affected counties. If the damage exceeds the threshold of $7.9 million statewide, the process continues.

Homeland Security and Emergency Management then prepares a letter for the governor to sign, documenting factors that determine severity, magnitude and impact from the events, and Walz submits that letter to the president through FEMA.

The president is the only one with authority to grant a presidential disaster declaration. If assistance is approved, Homeland Security and Emergency Management staff work in partnership with FEMA to assist counties in applying for funds.