Legislators set early October session for flood moneyby Elizabeth Dunbar, Minnesota Public Radio,
Tom Scheck, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — Last week's record rainfall in southern Minnesota could lead to flooding along portions of the Mississippi and Minnesota rivers, the National Weather Service said Monday.
The National Weather Service said last week's rain is traveling down into tributaries that empty into the Mississippi and Minnesota rivers. The Minnesota River was expected to reach flood stage Monday night at Savage, and the Mississippi was expected to reach flood stage by Thursday morning at Hastings. The city of St. Paul is also bracing for possible flooding along the Mississippi River.
In preparation, the Minnesota Department of Transportation on Monday closed Highway 101 spanning the Minnesota River between Scott County Road 69 in Shakopee and Carver County Road 61 in Chanhassen. The department later closed Highway 41 in Chaska.
MnDOT spokesman J.P. Gillach said workers are also building a protective ditch block perpendicular to Interstate 35W at Cliff Road in Burnsville to protect nearby businesses from backwater from the rising Minnesota River.
Gillach said that roads that are closed due to flooding will likely stay closed for a week or more.
"Once a road becomes inundated, it can take some time before we're able to open it. Just because the water recedes doesn't mean the road is ready to handle traffic," he said.
In St. Paul, several roads had already closed, and officials planned to close more on Tuesday.
Many roads in southern Minnesota remained closed. On Sunday, MnDOT closed Highway 169 between St. Peter and Le Sueur, which means Highway 169 is now closed between Henderson and Mankato -- about 28 miles of roadway.
U.S. Highway 52 remained closed near Pine Island, as did U.S. Highway 63 just a few miles north of Rochester. Several other state highways and county roads were also closed.
Government officials respond
Gov. Tim Pawlenty said Monday that he'll likely call a one-day special legislative session in early October to provide assistance to southern Minnesota residents impacted by last week's flooding.
Pawlenty met privately with legislative leaders Monday morning and said the special session will likely take place between Oct. 7 and Oct. 12. He said he's is waiting for additional damage assessments before choosing a final date. "We want to move and will move as quickly as absolutely possible, but we want to do that after we make sure that we have the right information and the correct information to act appropriately and responsibly," Pawlenty said.
Minnesota is currently facing cash flow problems and Pawlenty couldn't say if the state will need to borrow money in the short term to pay for flood assistance. Senate Majority Leader Larry Pogemiller, DFL-Minneapolis, said Pawlenty will likely rely on federal funds passed by Congress over the summer to cover the cost of the aid.
"If that's the case then there should be no problem financially here," Pogemiller said. "We would like to proceed as orderly as possible, as quickly as we can once we know the federal numbers and the availability of cash on the bottom line for our budget."
Senate Minority Leader David Senjem, R-Rochester, said he expected the flood recovery legislation to be modeled after one passed in 2007 to help Rushford in southeastern Minnesota recover. Pawlenty said Monday that the state ended up spending about $147 million for recovery efforts during that flood.
Last week's flooding affected a much wider area.
"It's major," Senjem told MPR's Morning Edition. "There's a fair amount of agony and hurt right now."
Pawlenty said he'll ask the federal government to declare counties affected by flooding a disaster area, but he doesn't know how much money the state will have to provide.
Officials from the Federal Emergency Management Agency arrived in Minnesota on Monday to begin preliminary damage assessments on public infrastructure in 35 counties, officials at the state Emergency Operations Center said.
In nine of those counties -- Blue Earth, Dodge, Faribault, Martin, Olmstead, Rice, Steele, Wabasha and Waseca -- assessment teams were examining flood damage affecting individual residents.
As state lawmakers considered what steps to take toward recovery, efforts were also expected at the federal level. If Pawlenty's federal disaster declaration request is granted, it would allow the state to receive federal assistance to fix or replace public infrastructure.
- All Things Considered, 09/27/2010, 5:50 p.m.
Elizabeth Dunbar is a general assignment reporter for MPR News.