Congressional delegation discusses flood recovery

North Dakota’s congressional delegation toured sites on Friday where schools are under construction to replace those destroyed by the 2011 Souris River flood and heard feedback from area leaders about flood recovery efforts.

“(The Minot school district has) done an amazing job,” said Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., who was told that Minot students will be in the new Erik Ramstad Middle School and the newly constructed addition to Longfellow Elementary after Labor Day. “That is just flat amazing building a new school that fast.” Hoeven said he doesn’t think many other school districts could put their recovery efforts together so quickly.

Hoeven, along with Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., and Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., also said they have worked together to ensure that North Dakota communities will be eligible for disaster recovery funding under the Hurricane Sandy disaster bill.

The Disaster Relief Appropriations bill, which was passed last week, includes a $16 billion appropriation for the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery Program.

The congressional delegation indicated that language in the bill would make eligible for the funding states that experienced disasters occurring within 2011, 2012 and 2013. The grant application process is competitive, so the Minot area must submit a good proposal compared with other areas that experienced flooding, tornadoes, hurricanes and wildfires in the past three years. However, the bill targets CDBG-DR funding to the most highly impacted areas, giving Minot a better chance at qualifying.

Cramer said the HUD Secretary has 45 days from the law’s enactment to write the rules governing distribution of funding. One-third of the funding is to be dispersed within two months.

Heitkamp told the assembled mayors, city council members, county commission members and others that she is also interested in hearing ways to help “just folks” who are hurt by the flood but have not received assistance. During her campaign last year she talked with low income and fixed income people and people still living in Federal Emergency Management Agency trailers who were devastated by the flood and haven’t received much assistance to recover. Heitkamp said in many ways Minot is a “tale of two cities” with some thriving economically and others still struggling.

Minot Mayor Curt Zimbelman said he would like to see language in the bill that would allow reimbursements for work that people have already done on their properties. Hoeven said that language was included in the original bill but was struck before passage. They will try to get it included under the regulations.

Zimbelman said it would also be helpful if the city was able buy out some of the properties that are located in the flood plain.

During the meeting, community leaders discussed plans for a flood control plan for the valley. Other proposals would include pushing the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to do a reconnaissance study to determine whether or not raising Lake Darling Dam and/or increasing target flows related to releases of water from dams along the Mouse River would help in protecting the region against future floods similar to the 2011 flood. Zimbelman said the city would like to do as much of the flood control plan as possible. How to pay for it all is one of the sticking points.

“Minot and the surrounding communities have made great strides on the road to full recovery thanks to the resilience of their residents and the efforts and cooperation of federal, state and local agencies,” the delegation said in a statement. “However, unmet needs still exist and we will continue to work through HUD and other federal agencies to advance flood protection and recovery efforts in disaster affected regions of North Dakota.”