Dakota County aid request denied by FEMA

Mendota, county appeal decision

Mudslides tore through the bluffs of the small city of Mendota in June, when a group of thunderstorms and resulting flash floods soaked communities through Minnesota. Once they totaled up the dollar amounts of damage, dozens of counties requested federal financial aid to replace ruined public infrastructure, such as roads, water lines and sewers. 

However, after approving aid to 37 counties and three tribal governments in the state, FEMA denied Dakota County's aid application.

The denial came Aug. 26, and county leaders decided to file an appeal within the required 30 days. The estimated cost of the county's post-flood restoration, according to the official report, would be between $425,100 and $699,400. 

A pre-existing risk?

The main reason the request was denied is, ironically, the Mendota bluffs. FEMA argued the area was already at risk before the June rains hit. 

And, without being able to include the Mendota damage on the application, Dakota County's request would fall below the threshold needed for FEMA funds.

"It's critical that we are included, so that the whole county can benefit," said Mendota Mayor Brian Mielke. "But their reason that they were initially getting pushed back is because (FEMA argues) the bluff was giving way before the heavy rains in June. Our opinion is different."

For now, the city must play the waiting game. First, the city engineer must analyze the bluff area and determine whether the deterioration was caused by the storms or has been a long time coming. 

Five homes stranded

Whenever the process began, the result is a cracked and unstable Lower D Street, which is the lone means of exiting the town from five different homes. If the FEMA appeal succeeds, the roads would be reconstructed and fixed, with construction starting in the spring of 2015. 

"We're actively working with the city to collect information," said B.J. Battig, Dakota County Emergency Management Director. "We'll be passing that on to (Homeland Security and Emergency Management) to try to put in for the appeal."

Minnesota's department of Homeland Securtity and Emergency Management will work on and submit the appeal letter, and have been in constant contact with Dakota County on the progress of the  city engineer's report. 

Plan B for D Street?

Although members of the state's homeland security and emergency management declined an interview, they did confirm they are currently waiting for the county to finish the engineering inspection before they can get going on the appeal process. 

The report would be filled out and submitted by Kris Eide, the state's director of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.

According to Mielke, Mendota has backup plans to deal with the damage if the FEMA appeal fails. The city could approach the governor's office to request state funding. Or it could issue a bond and increase its property tax levy — on the 80 or so properties in its third of a square mile boundary — to pay for the bond over a 20-year period. 

"Either way, a long-term fix is our only option," the mayor said.  

You can reach Tim Faklis at 651-748-7814, at tfaklis@lillienews.com, or on Twitter @tfaklisnews. 

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