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State considers Browns Valley needs

ST. PAUL - The state representative for flood-damaged Browns Valley says Minnesota will need to help the 650-population community recover.

While officials are examining the damage, some Democrats complained that Gov. Tim Pawlenty was campaigning for presidential candidate John McCain in Iowa instead of working on the Browns Valley problem.

The governor plans to visit the community today.

Browns Valley lawmakers were looking into what could be done for the town.

"If there is a community that needs help from the state, it's Browns Valley," Rep. Paul Marquart, DFL-Dilworth, said.

The community has a high percentage of elderly residents and it has little property tax base on which to base a recovery, the lawmaker added.

On top of that, Marquart said that it appears the town is so small that it would not have enough damage to reach the minimum dollar damage for federal aid.

"There probably will be little, if any, federal help," he said.

Marquart told fellow representatives Thursday that 150 people were evacuated during Wednesday flooding that filled about 50 homes with up to eight feet of water.

"Keep the residents of Browns Valley in your thoughts and your prayers," he urged.

Even before the town dries out, officials today are to assess damage and plan for the future.

Pawlenty plans to talk to city and Traverse County officials at 3 p.m. today, then tour damage before meeting with the public at 3:30 p.m. in the town's elementary school.

Pawlenty spokesman Brian McClung said the governor is "open to providing any required assistance," including asking the Legislature to appropriate disaster-recovery money to the city if needed.

"We understand it is a small community, but Minnesota always comes out to help cities recovering from a natural disaster," McClung said.

Pawlenty, co-chairman of the McCain presidential committee campaigned in Des Moines, Ames and elsewhere Thursday.

"The governor is once again putting his national ambitions ahead of Minnesotans' interests," said Brian Melendez, Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party chairman. "Western Minnesota is flooding and local officials are seeking disaster relief, but Gov. Pawlenty is spending his time campaigning for a struggling presidential candidate in Iowa."

Sen. Keith Langseth, DFL-Glyndon, also was unhappy.

"I guess he puts first things first," Langseth said sarcastically.

However, McClung said that Pawlenty's office has been in contact with local officials and the governor was ready to cancel the Iowa trip if he was needed in Browns Valley.

"We have administration officials who are on the ground in Browns Valley," McClung said. "Local officials we have spoken with are comfortable with the governor visiting on Friday. It gives them the opportunity to begin their assessment."

Local officials need time to examine the damage, McClung added. "We want to allow local officials to make the assessment and then see what needs to be done."

Marquart said he won't criticize Pawlenty.

"He is very sympathetic to the needs there," Marquart said Thursday. "He's going to be in Browns Valley tomorrow; I'm happy."

Marquart has Capitol meetings today, but wants to be in Browns Valley Saturday.

Langseth said he plans to be with Pawlenty today, but it is too early to know how much the state will need to help.

"They will need help from someplace," the senator said.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.