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Lawmakers, Pawlenty agree on disaster bill

ST. PAUL -- Legislative leaders and Gov. Tim Pawlenty today agreed on a bill that provides funds to recover from last month's southern Minnesota floods and would appropriate some money for Wadena to plan for a new community center to replace facilities damaged in a June tornado.

As of mid-afternoon, the question was when a special legislative session will be held to appropriate the money. State officials say that will not happen until the federal government declares most of southern Minnesota a flood disaster area. That could be announced at any time.

The bill crafted over the past several days is designed to pay the state portion of repairs to public facilities ranging from buildings to roads. An initial flood damage estimate was set at $64 million.

Federal funds usually pay 75 percent of public facility repair costs.

One hold-up in negotiations has been whether to include any funds for Wadena, but in the end those close to the meetings say $750,000 will be part of the bill so the community can begin planning a community center to replace facilities destroyed by the June 17 tornado.

The Wadena facility would be near or connected to a new high school, replacing one that was destroyed.

"It was important to include this funding now because the city of Wadena is breaking ground in the spring on a new school," said Rep. Kory Kath, DFL-Owatonna. "This planning money will help them identify priorities and determine where they can share space with the community center."

Kath, DFL spokesman for the flood-relief effort, said the package includes help to recover as well as to prevent future floods. It includes aid for damaged local roads, loans to individuals who whose property was flooded and grants to businesses.

The measure also contains safeguards to prevent misuse of flood-relief money such as is alleged after 2007 southeast Minnesota flooding.

Pawlenty says he will call a special legislative session soon after the state receives word that a federal disaster declaration is signed. That is needed so the state knows how much federal aid will flow into Minnesota.

Final details of the state bill must await word about how much Washington will contribute to the effort.

Don Davis reports for Forum Communications Co.

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.