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Damaging storms prompt 2nd emergency declaration in Crow Wing

It’s been a stormy start to the summer season in north-central Minnesota, with the National Weather Service issuing a multitude of severe thunderstorm watches and warnings.

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Storms clouds Thursday, June 23, 2022, in the Brainerd lakes area.
Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch
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BRAINERD — The severe thunderstorms leaving damage in their wakes during the week of June 20 led Crow Wing County to declare a local emergency.

To make such a declaration, the county must show it sustained at least $135,552.15 in damages to public infrastructure, which in turn makes the county and local jurisdictions eligible for 75% reimbursement from the state of Minnesota for eligible expenditures. This is the second time this year the county took the step of declaring an emergency because of severe weather impacts.

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“We’ve met our threshold. We know that right now from our (electrical) co-ops and our highway department,” said John Bowen, Crow Wing County emergency management director. “But there’s still a lot of cleanup across the county.”

During the Tuesday, June 28, County Board meeting, Bowen cited examples of areas especially hard-hit during the June 20 storm, when strong winds toppled trees throughout the cities of Brainerd and Baxter along with other pockets of destruction. He said Greer Lake Campground — a primitive campground located within the Crow Wing State Forest — is closed due to downed trees, and places like the Cuyuna Country State Recreation Area also sustained storm damage.

“It’s kind of different than the ‘15 and ‘16 storms, because it’s spread out countywide, it’s not in one geographical location,” Bowen said, referencing two dramatic storms in 2015 and 2016 featuring hurricane-strength winds affecting the Gull Lake area. “So it takes the highway department, public works and our contractors a lot more time to clean up, because they drive all over.”

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It’s been a stormy start to the summer season in north-central Minnesota, with the National Weather Service issuing a multitude of severe thunderstorm watches and warnings. Heavy rains, high winds, hail — all have caused damage not only to public property but also people’s homes, businesses, vehicles and landscapes.

“We’ve just been walloped lately, with one after another after another for storms, and I know we’ve had quite an area hit,” said Sheriff Scott Goddard during the meeting.

Bowen noted damage estimates in the state arising from severe weather on Memorial Day appear to have met the threshold required for federal help through a presidential disaster declaration. Once this level is reached, combined federal and state aid reimburses 100% of the costs of the response.

“That helps us a lot, especially our small cities and townships, because there’s no match anymore,” Bowen said.

A change to state law in 2014 established the Disaster Assistance Contingency Account to assist local communities after a natural disaster, even when federal help is not available. This led to more local emergency declarations than before the passage of the law, noted County Administrator Tim Houle.

“We’re doing this more frequently because of storm events that did not used to meet the federal threshold but now meet this new state threshold to qualify for reimbursement — at least partial reimbursement,” Houle said.

Although the state and federal reimbursement programs apply only to costs born by public entities, Bowen said other means could be made available to those who sustained damages to their private property, especially for those who are uninsured. The U.S. Small Business Administration sometimes offers low-interest disaster loans for residents and businesses, depending on the scale of a disaster in an area. A survey coordinated by the county seeks to determine whether the area may be ripe for loan assistance.

“We’re seeing more and more houses that (have) major damages, with trees on them or trees running through the roofs,” Bowen said.

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Taking the survey

The state of Minnesota asked Crow Wing County to survey residential and business property owners to see if they had substantial storm damage to their homes, businesses or structures.

The dates to be included in the survey are the May 29-30 and June 20-24 storms. To respond to the online survey, visit https://bit.ly/3yuHMhx by July 31.

For those with damage in excess of 40% to the structure, fill out the survey and someone will be in touch. For more information, call 218-824-1044.

CHELSEY PERKINS, community editor, may be reached at 218-855-5874 or chelsey.perkins@brainerddispatch.com . Follow on Twitter at twitter.com/DispatchChelsey .

Related Topics: CROW WING COUNTYCROW WING COUNTY BOARDGOVERNMENT AND POLITICSWEATHERSEVERE WEATHER
Chelsey Perkins is the community editor of the Brainerd Dispatch. A lakes area native, Perkins joined the Dispatch staff in 2014. She is the Crow Wing County government beat reporter and the producer and primary host of the "Brainerd Dispatch Minute" podcast.
Reach her at chelsey.perkins@brainerddispatch.com or at 218-855-5874 and find @DispatchChelsey on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
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