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St. Louis County Board declares state of local emergency for flooding

The declaration will allow the county to qualify for state, and possibly federal, assistance for governmental entities.

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DULUTH — A state of local emergency was declared Tuesday morning during an emergency St. Louis County Board meeting. The declaration will enable the county to receive state, and possibly federal, funding to repair flood damage across the county.

St. Louis County Public Works Director Jim Foldesi said the cumulative flooded areas across the county have caused enough damage to reach the threshold of $380,000 to $420,000 to qualify for state assistance.

The floods, caused by snowmelt and rains over the last six weeks or so, will continue to travel down the drainage basin in the coming weeks. Undersheriff Jason Lukovsky said it's hard to estimate when the region could see its peak, but he guesses the flooding will continue for another two weeks or so.

“We’ve looked at the impacts to our infrastructure out there and, along with what we’ve been seeing from other governmental entities, we believe that we’ll be hitting those minimum dollar thresholds to get state assistance for sure," Foldesi said. "Don’t know about federal assistance yet — we’ll have to see how some of this plays out.”

The threshold for federal assistance is about $840,000 in damages.

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Board Chair Paul McDonald, District 4, declared a state of local emergency on Monday. The board held its emergency meeting the next day to finalize that declaration in order for the county to be eligible for assistance.

“The emergency declaration is critically important as we work with the state and the state agencies that may be involved related to any assistance that would be available for public entities such as local governments in this situation,” said Deputy County Administrator Brian Fritsinger.

Some of the hardest impact has been at the Vermilion Dam and Vermilion River, Lukovsky said. Resources have been dispatched to the area.

Foldesi said the Kabetogama and Crane Lake Township areas are experiencing major flood damage to private property, which would not be able to be covered by the state or federal assistance, which is for governmental entities. He said the townships will be responsible for the cost of sandbags and sandbagging equipment that has been requested and sent to them.

“In past disasters, in order to have assistance to private entities, you have to meet a very high dollar threshold amount," Foldesi said. "And as we’re seeing this event right now, it doesn’t look like we're going to make it to that point. We’re not on the order of the 2012 type of event.”

Commissioner Mike Jugovitch, District 7, asked Foldesi if there were other resources for individuals to seek assistance from, but Foldesi said he would need to research more before answering.

“The water has obviously risen to the point where you’re seeing the homes become filled indoor pools,” Jugovitch said of damage he's seen in photos.

Commissioner Keith Nelson, District 6, commended the work done previously by public works to raise roads and bridges, as it's allowed for more infrastructure to remain open. Foldesi said more roads will likely be closed as the water moves through the system. Lukovsky said no one has had to be evacuated yet, but evacuation routes are in place in case that action becomes necessary. Sandbagging is currently the first priority of defense, he said.

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“Quite frankly, right now, this is the first time that my district is really, really getting slammed," Nelson said. "I know there are issues up north, but this is countywide.”

The board unanimously passed the motion to declare the state of local emergency. Chair McDonald and Commissioner Ashley Grimm, District 3, were absent.

Laura Butterbrodt covers health for the Duluth News Tribune. She has a bachelor of arts in journalism from South Dakota State University and has been working as a reporter in Minnesota and South Dakota since 2014.
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