North Dakota's U.S. senators hope to snare more federal money for Minot's flood recovery, suggesting that city officials travel to Washington to help explain the need.
Sens. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., and John Hoeven, R-N.D., met with city officials Tuesday in Minot to talk about the unmet needs that remain in the aftermath of the 2011 flood.
"We need to identify as carefully and as closely as we can what federal resources still are needed," Conrad said. "Based on what I see, obviously, we don't have enough to meet the needs, especially as I am hearing from people, individual homeowners that have been adversely affected. If there's one place I hear more needs to be done, it's there, and if more is going to be done, there needs to be more resources."
To date, Minot and Ward County have received nearly $565.6 million in federal funds. It includes $27 million for the flood fight, $77 million through a Community Development Block Grant, $74.2 million for infrastructure repairs, $73.5 million for road repairs, $89.8 million in individual assistance and $224 million in Small Business Administration disaster loans.
Mayor Curt Zimbelman listed affordable housing, infrastructure for new housing and individual assistance to flood-impacted homeowners as priority needs. Roughly, at least $300 million would be needed to fund infrastructure and reimburse homeowners who are rebuilding.
The mayor said the city proposes to use some CDBG dollars to help low-income households rebuild. The people being left out are the middle-income households who have gone deep into debt to get back in their homes, he said. Federal guidelines consider them to be without unmet needs.
Congress renews flood insurance program
WASHINGTON After multiple extensions since 2008, Congress has reauthorized the National Flood Insurance Program for five years.
Sens. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., and John Hoeven, R.N.D., worked to modify the original bill to spare homeowners and businesses from having to purchase flood insurance if they live in areas protected by federally certified flood control projects. Residents of 17 North Dakota communities including Minot, are affected by the provision.
Hoeven said many North Dakota communities have already invested, or plan to invest, hundreds of millions of dollars in flood protection infrastructure. He said they should not have to pay twice for protection through taxes for the flood protection infrastructure and again annually through a mandated insurance purchase.
"A mandate to buy insurance will discourage businesses from building or rebuilding in an area certifiably protected by flood infrastructure," Hoeven said. "That will reduce a community's revenue base and impede new opportunities to create jobs and economic activity, often in a community already struggling to recover its economic base."
About 21,000 North Dakotans carry flood insurance.
"That just doesn't seem fair," Zimbelman said.
The city also proposes to use CDBG money to match state money for home buyouts, but more money is needed. The city is estimating it will take $60 million or more to fully buy out homes.
Zimbelman voiced concern about the ability to obtain hazard mitigation money for buyouts under the cost-benefit analysis being used by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The analysis method is not the one FEMA previously indicated that it would use, he said.
Conrad urged city officials to come to Washington to join the congressional delegation in meeting with FEMA leadership. He and Hoeven also indicated interest in pursuing more CDBG money, but they noted federal officials must be persuaded to increase the flexibility so the funds are more useful to Minot.
Conrad said his office is investigating the gap between federal aid offered to Minot and higher levels of assistance to Grand Forks after its 1997 flood and to Hurricane Katrina victims in 2005. That gap should be closed, he said.
Hoeven added that they need to go after all funding sources. The federal Economic Development Administration and Housing and Urban Development should be tapped to cover some of Minot's infrastructure and housing needs, he said.
Hoeven suggested Minot seek more state and local dollars, and Zimbelman responded that is being done.
"We are looking at bonding," Zimbelman said. "We don't expect the federal government or the state to do it. We are involved in it."
But he added there is a limit to bonding.
"We can only go to a certain degree before we are hurting the very people we are trying to help," he said.