State bolsters flood recovery in Dakota County

City crews added more sandbags to a pile at Twin City Marina in Inver Grove Heights on June 25, bracing for the Mississippi River to crest. The state now plans to reimburse Dakota County for money spent on flood mitigation and recovery.

Gov. Mark Dayton and Mendota Mayor Brian Mielke look over a map of the city as they discuss areas heavily effected by flooding June 24. It was Dayton's last stop while touring rain-soaked communities, assessing damages, and deciding which counties would be included in a State of Emergency declaration earlier this year.

FEMA denies appeal; Dayton orders use of new program

A new state program will provide significant relief for northern Dakota County taxpayers who may have otherwise seen a jump in 2015 city tax levies to cover the cost of flood damage.

Dakota County cities have already racked up thousands of dollars in expenses from sandbagging, pumping water and clearing debris as heavy rains fell this summer, pushing estimates upwards of $1 million to also patch damage left behind by the widespread flooding. 

FEMA denied the state's appeal to garner disaster funds Sept. 30, despite a more thorough look at a critical access road in Mendota that was fissured due to mudslides triggered by the record-breaking rains in mid-June. In the initial application, FEMA determined the Mendota slope failure wasn't eligible for the funds, putting Dakota County's total disaster-related costs below the threshold necessary to receive federal funds. The agency stuck to its original determination Sept. 30.

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton then designated state staff to provide Dakota County with disaster assistance.

According to Dayton's Sept. 30 letter, damage throughout the county is "of sufficient severity and magnitude to warrant the use of the State Public Disaster Assistance fund."

Through that program, the state will reimburse 75 percent of expenses to help the county recover from the deluge.

"It's a coordinated and equitable way of providing disaster relief to communities," said Kris Eide, director of Homeland Security and Emergency Management for the state. "This is really the first time we've been able to utilize this new law, and I'm really excited about doing it."

Eide said the amount spent fighting the June floods and the resulting infrastructure damages appears to be between $1.2 million and $1.3 million, but the actual cost of repairs won't be known until the cities address the damage and "get all their bills in."

In preliminary estimates, damage and other expenses for Mendota Heights totalled about $110,000, according to B.J. Battig, the Dakota County Emergency Management director. West St. Paul is at approximately $125,000, and Inver Grove Heights sits at $70,000. South St. Paul is looking at an about $25,000 bill. 

Burnsville, Eagan, Rosemount and other townships and cities throughout the county also had damages that the state program will help cover.

Topping area cities is tiny Mendota, located at the confluence of the Minnesota and Mississippi rivers. Its estimated repair costs are between $425,100 and $699,400, according to the city's geotechnical report.

Those numbers will be firmed up as the county works through the public reimbursement process — where the state will cover 75 percent of costs, leaving 25 percent for local entities, Battig said.

The Minnesota Legislature just last year approved the new program, a fortunate outcome for the Dakota County cities that would've been saddled with more than $1 million in expenses, Battig said.

"We just really appreciate that the state is working with us," Battig added. "The state's been very helpful in working with us to get the reimbursement going."

Dayton's decision is especially good news for Mendota. 

"With a heavy heart," the Mendota City Council recently approved its preliminary property-tax levy with a $40,000 increase — a significant uptick for the city's usual budget of about $165,000, according to Mayor Brian Mielke. With the state program, the city may be able to lower that increase and keep its levy flat, he said.

"That's our goal: to keep our taxes flat and figure out a creative way to pay for the city portion," Mielke said.

He said the city's looking at short-term fixes for the winter, and then long-term ways to stabilize the bluff and fix Upper and Lower D streets.

That lifts "undue stress" on Mendota's about 200 residents who are primarily low- to moderate-wage earners, Mielke said.

"It's a huge relief on our taxpayers," he said.

Kaitlyn Roby can be reached at 651-748-7815 and Follow her at

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