Minot Mayor Curt Zimbelman testified Tuesday at a Senate Budget Committee hearing held in Minot. This is Zimbelman's testimony.
"Senator Kent Conrad, distinguished legislators and guests, thank you for the opportunity to talk about the great need that exists in Minot. My name is Curt Zimbelman, I am a longtime resident of Minot and the mayor in our city of around 50,000 people.
A disastrous flood in June of 2011 swamped the valley of our city and is the reason why I am testifying before you today. This flood was the largest recorded event in our 130-plus year history - more than three feet higher than the previous record. Words will never be able to accurately describe the damage, the heartache or the immense challenge that this disaster brought our residents. I can only hope today to use some numbers and a few scenarios to portray why the Magic City of Minot should be a top priority for additional Community Development Block Grant funds to assist us in our rebuilding process.
The flood of June 2011 caused more than 4,100 properties in the region to be damaged - with more than 3,000 of those experiencing between 6 and 12 feet of water in their homes. Estimated damages to residential structures alone is more than $480 million, with loss to commercial, public and farm structures estimated at over $210 million.
We are a city trying to restore neighborhoods one home at a time ... but the level of destruction is simply too great to put solely on the backs of local taxpayers.
An assessment of the 2,700 hardest hit homes in our valley shows where some of the greatest needs lie. More than 100 of these homes have yet to be cleaned out, or gutted in the nine months since the flood - many of these homes will be a complete loss and will need to be demolished. More than 100 homes have already gone through the demolition process with homeowners looking at costs easily over $150,000 to rebuild their homes from scratch. To simply bring these roughly 200 homes back to our neighborhoods would cost $30 million.
Of the 2,700 hardest hit homes, half of them remain just "shells" where homeowners, friends and neighbors have helped to clean out and sanitize the home. But in many cases there simply aren't enough funds readily available to replace walls, ceilings, kitchens, bathrooms, bedrooms, siding, flooring, paint and everything else. Most of these individuals have spent a good portion of the FEMA individual assistance monies made available to them just to get their home to this point. Contractors are estimating that to rebuild these homes will take between $60,000-$120,000, each. This kind of money isn't sitting in the bank for these homeowners, many of which are low- to moderate-income earners.
Residents of the city of Minot were fortunate to receive some state assistance, in the form of low-interest loans from the State Bank of North Dakota to assist in their rebuilding - but the maximum amount for these loans is $30,000 ... leaving a huge gap.
Through the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the city of Minot was awarded a Community Development Block Grant for Disaster Recovery in the amount of just over $67.5 million. Currently an action plan is being written that will lay out how to best assist our city in recovering from the 2011 flood. Portions of this grant will likely be positioned to assist those homeowners that were the hardest hit ... yet even if every last cent of this money was spent to purchase properties at their pre-flood value to compensate those homeowners, the money would only assist between 400 and 450 homes - leaving the vast majority of the 2,700 hardest hit homes with nothing. How does a city pick who will get fairly compensated for the damage that impacted all of us? Even if these funds were spent, to give everyone something, that means that more than 11,000 individuals would each receive less than $6,000 each - nowhere near what is needed to rebuild a home, restore a livelihood or recover appropriately from this devastation. And that hasn't helped to address the multitude of other problems that this flood brought to Minot.
For example, the hundreds of millions of dollars in infrastructure damaged - from overtaxed sewer lines to roads under water for up to a month to a regional landfill currently bursting at the seams. The city has identified more than $40 million needed as a starting point for just six projects that are a high priority for our entire city in order to start recovering from the 2011 flood. One critical project includes permanent repairs to sewer lift stations damaged by the flood. This project alone would cost more than $8.5 million. A core project of this nature impacts everyone in the city and must be done in order to continue to properly serve our growing city.
For a variety of needs, property acquisitions are and will continue to play a role in the recovery phase. We currently have received or identified funds totaling $23.6 million that will support the purchase of roughly 115 homes in the flood that we have identified are needed regardless of permanent flood protection decisions. This is just a start. The city would like to be able to offer a voluntary property acquisition process for hundreds of others in the valley, but no funds have been made available for this process. Tens of millions in additional funding would be needed to continue this type of program.
Let me scratch the surface on the quality of life that has been destroyed by this flood - taking a quick look at the damage done to some of Minot's finest parks and recreation areas. The Minot Park District estimates that roughly $6 million in additional aid is needed to repair Oak Park, Roosevelt Park and Zoo, the Souris Valley Golf Course and other areas back to their pre-flood condition.
Let's also not forget about the public school system that took a very serious hit as a result of this flood. Their needs are vast as they undertake the task of remodeling some elementary schools, while also completely rebuilding a middle school away from the Mouse River. This flood damaged them in excess of $50 million and has displaced more than 1,000 students.
With more than 1,650 families still living in FEMA temporary housing units, a general housing shortage in our city, rental vacancies at near 0 percent and economic growth in full gear we have to rebuild these homes, retain our hard-working residents, rehabilitate our infrastructure, restore our parks and schools, and continue to push forward.
The current level of federal aid is appreciated yet leaves us still hundreds of millions of dollars short of meeting the need in Minot. Additional federal aid in the form of Community Development Block Grants is obvious and great. My plea today is for any additional funds, with the least amount of strings attached, so that frustrations can be mitigated in the process of properly spending them on projects that allow us to respond to our residents in this, their time of greatest need."