Gov. Dayton, lawmakers quickly enact flood aid
ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — State aid to rebuild washed-out roads, repair flooded basements and restore storm-ravaged state parks is on its way to northeastern Minnesota and other parts of the state after the Legislature and Gov. Mark Dayton signed a $167.5 million relief package Friday.
Dayton signed the bill into law hours after it cleared the Senate 60-7 and the House on a 125-3 vote in a short special session, dipping into rainy-day reserves and borrowing money to cover the cost.
"This help to Minnesotans, who have suffered terrible misfortunes, is a shining example of the spirit which makes our state so very special," Dayton said in a statement.
Flash floods that started June 19 wiped out entire roads and killed zoo animals in Duluth and destroyed an iconic swinging bridge in nearby Jay Cooke State Park. The water then rushed downstream, prompting evacuations in other communities including Moose Lake and Thomson. Days earlier, floods hit the central and southeastern part of the state, damaging infrastructure and sending homeowners in search of sump pumps. And in early July, a windstorm blew down trees and power lines in northern Minnesota.
The state package provides matching money for federal disaster aid after President Obama declared 15 counties and three tribal governments to be disaster areas. It will also pay to help fix park buildings and infrastructure, shore up school and local government budgets in flood areas and replant pine forests.
"What we are providing here today, my friends, my colleagues, is a lot of hope, a lot of help for people whose lives have been turned upside down," said Rep. John Ward, DFL-Brainerd, who described how some of his constituents struggled with broken concrete and mold in basements after the floods.
Republican legislative leaders said the flood bill was part of a nonpartisan tradition of providing disaster relief, despite grumbling from a small contingent of GOP lawmakers. House Speaker Kurt Zellers said disaster relief is part of the Legislature's job.
"It should be done quickly, there should be little partisan bickering, and then get the relief to the people that need it," said Zellers, R-Maple Grove.
Sen. Sean Nienow, R-Cambridge, voted against the aid after complaining about the process used to create the bill. It was the product of negotiations between Dayton, a Democrat, and top Republican and Democratic lawmakers, who signed an agreement barring rank-and-file lawmakers from making any changes to the flood package or bringing up other business during the session.
"That is a terrible, terrible flawed process," Nienow said.
The legislation includes a loan program offering homeowners up to $30,000 to make repairs. And Rep. Tim Kelly, R-Red Wing, said the law will also help prepare for future disasters by creating an account where repaid disaster loans will be collected to use again.
Sen. Roger Reinert, DFL-Duluth, said the flash floods caused $80 million worth of damage in Duluth alone, causing major or minor damage to more than 900 homes and businesses.
"We understand it is going to be a very long recovery," said Sen. Tony Lourey, DFL-Kerrick, whose district includes some of the hardest-hit northeastern communities.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.