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Agencies meet on flood cleanup

Sun, Aug 6th, 2000
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Public meeting scheduledBy John TorgrimsonMonday, August 7, 2000

Over 30 officials from federal, state and local government agencies met in Preston on Thursday, August 3 to discuss how to continue with flood clean up activities in Fillmore and Houston counties. The meeting was called by State Senator Kenric Scheevel R-Preston.

Scheevel said that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has done a good job through its public and individual assistance programs to help flood victims. But Scheevel said that there are still a lot of property owners who are not eligible for FEMA's individual assistance programs that need help.

"There is a tremendous amount of debris that has piled up on Ag land from flooding, especially trees, silt and sand," Scheevel said. "How can we help people deal with this problem?"

Scheevel hoped that by pooling resources from several agencies together, that a menu of programs would be made available to individuals. He was also hopeful that a lead agency would emerge where people could come to for referrals to the programs that best suit their needs.

"I have a farmer who has lost ten feet of bank and the river is now five feet from his well. Where can he go to get help?"Scheevel asked. "These are the kind of things people want to know."

The meeting was chaired by Larry Nelson, Regional Director of the DNR, and included representatives from FEMA; Minnesota Division of Emergency Management (MDEM); Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS); Board of Water and Soil Resources; Minnesota Conservation Corps; Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD); Farm Service Agency (FSA); Sentence to Serve; U.S. Army Corps of Engineers; DNR Division of Waters; Fillmore County; and Houston County. There was consensus that the meeting should focus on:
1. River cleanup and erosion.
2. Ag land cleanup, including debris, silt and sand.
3. Early Warning systems.
4. Long-term flood prevention.

Kevin Leuer, Director of the Minnesota DEM, said that FEMA funds are focused on helping communities deal with their emergency and critical needs.

"FEMA focuses on public safety. Individuals are usually not eligible for reimbursement," Leuer said. "The federal standards are clear on that."

Leuer went on to say that FEMA treats farms as a business and that the Small Business Administration has programs to help businesses.

Nelson called on each agency to comment on the range of services it can offer. The responses ranged from specialized funding programs, such as the Emergency Watershed Protection Program through NRCS, to providing volunteer labor through the Sentence to Serve program.

Tammy Martin, Fillmore County Executive Director of the Farm Service Agency (FSA), said that the USDA/FSA does have a program that can assist farmers with debris clean up on Ag land, including silt removal and fence repair. She said that they have received $275,000 for this program and have already had 130 applications.

It became clear during the meeting that several agencies are already working closely together to identify where people can get help. For example, NRCS, SWCD, and the FSA are closely linked.

State Representative Greg Davids said that he and Senator Scheevel are looking at introducing legislation that would provide funding for early warning systems and flood prevention.

"We need to use the summer and fall to identify the needs in our area so that Senator Scheevel and I can introduce legislation in January," Davids said.

Because of the specialized nature of each of the various agencies, no one organization emerged as the lead agency where individuals could go to for referral. However, the group did agree to hold a public meeting on Thursday, August 17, from 6:00 to 9:00 p.m. at the Fillmore Central Middle School in Preston. At that time, the public will be made aware of specific programs that various agencies can offer.

The purpose of the meeting is to provide a venue where individuals with unmet needs can come and talk with agency people. The DNR has agreed to create a matrix for distribution at the meeting that would link potential needs with a resource agency.

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