State offers flood assistance
ST. PAUL - The first request came in Thursday: 50,000 sandbags were needed in northwestern Minnesota's Clay County and Oakport Township.
In the days since, state officials received pleas for dozens of electric generators, boats, water pumps and more than 1 million sandbags from communities along the flooding Red River.
State agencies have provided nearly all of the equipment and staffing sought and Public Safety Department officials were ready Monday to activate a full-blown emergency operations center in St. Paul to help coordinate state and federal flood assistance.
"Any disaster, any emergency is a local event," said Doug Neville, a Public Safety Department information officer. "Our job is really to be here when that local agency, whether it's a city or a county, becomes overwhelmed or they don't have all the stuff they need."
By noon Monday all but one of the 19 requests by flood-threatened communities to the state emergency center had been met. Sandbags and equipment were transported to holding stations in Crookston and the Moorhead area.
Full activation of the state emergency operations center in downtown St. Paul would bring together more than 100 people from 24 to 30 state and federal agencies and volunteer organization. Activation could take only 30 minutes.
"Generally in situations like this there is a full activation," Neville said.
There already are state workers on the ground in flooded areas, Neville said, and Minnesota and North Dakota emergency management officials are talking frequently.
Gov. Tim Pawlenty toured Moorhead and Breckenridge Monday with state emergency management and National Guard leaders.
Lawmakers from the area said they are monitoring rising floodwaters and expect that the Legislature will need to pass flood cleanup funding later this spring.
By Monday afternoon a total of 300 Moorhead-based National Guard members were dispatched to help with flood relief. Two-hundred were activated Sunday, another 100 Monday, National Guard Cap. Randy Belden said.
Soldiers are being sent to Breckenridge and Moorhead to monitor traffic, patrol dikes and prepare for other flood-related activity. Guard members also have transported heavy equipment, including vehicles and generators, to the flooded areas.
Belden, who responded to the Red River floods of 1997 and 2006, said there are more than enough Guard members ready to assist if more help is needed.
"Flooding is part of Minnesota and the Minnesota National Guard is always prepared to react to that situation," Belden said.
The Moorhead-based unit includes soldiers familiar with northwestern Minnesota flooding, Belden said.
Belden, too, has experience with Red River Valley flooding. He lived in Fargo until 2007.
"It's very helpful down here to be looking at maps and be familiar with the area," he said.
Lawmakers representing the Red River Valley said there is no need yet for legislative involvement, but that time will come.
"I don't know of anything else we need," said Sen. Keith Langseth, DFL-Glyndon. "If there happens to be a lot of damage, I suppose there could be something."
Rep. Morrie Lanning, R-Moorhead, said the Legislature will need to provide flood-related funding later this session, when flood damage is better known.
Lanning, who was Moorhead mayor during the 1997 flood, said that federal aid would follow a presidential disaster declaration, should one be made in the coming days or weeks, but federal funds will not cover all costs.
"A lot has happened since '97 to protect ourselves, but this flood is going to go beyond protection already in place," Lanning told fellow House members.
Rep. Paul Marquart, DFL-Dilworth, is in daily contact with officials of most threatened cities in his district.
"A lot of what the state can do is mitigation," Marquart said, so his legislative effort is focused on a public works bill that provides funds for preventing future flood damage.
Marquart, who was Dilworth mayor during the 1997 flood, said he wants at least as much flood-fighting money as contained in a bill senators have passed -- $26 million. The House public works committee has yet to draw up its funding bill.
However, he added, once damages are known, lawmakers may need to examine some emergency funding.
Langseth, who leads the Senate Capital Investment Committee, said the $26 million included in the Senate's public works package could help some of the flooded areas.
"That's a great number but the need is far greater than that," Lanning said. "There's a lot of work to be done."
Most communities are in better shape to deal with floods than in 1997, Marquart said. That is important, he said, because "the 500-year floods are coming every 10 years."
Marquart said there was one silver lining in the 1997 flood: "this would be a lot worse if we didn't have '97."
Marquart urged fellow House members "to keep residents of the Red River Valley in your thoughts and your prayers."
Sen. LeRoy Stumpf, DFL-Plummer, said lawmakers will have to come together on flood relief funding this year, but it is too soon to know what that will look like.
"We'll know I'm sure within a few weeks the extent of the spring flooding," Stumpf said.
The Public Safety Department said there are ways Minnesotans can help Red River residents. Moorhead needs volunteers to assist with sandbagging. Other volunteer opportunities can be found by calling toll free (800) 543-7709.
State Capitol reporter Don Davis contributed to this story.