Hoeven, Conrad Press FEMA for Comprehensive Flood Protection Plan, Flexible Home Buyout Policy

MINOT – Senator John Hoeven and Senator Kent Conrad today met in Minot with David Miller, FEMA’s Associate Administrator for Federal Insurance and Mitigation, and state and county officials to coordinate federal, state and local efforts for the Minot flood recovery. Specifically, they’re focusing on using FEMA Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP) funds to buy out homes, which will also help with the construction of flood protection. Associate Administrator Miller is in Minot to help with the plan. 

More than 11,000 Minot residents were forced to evacuate their homes last spring, and city officials report that as many as 4,000 homes in neighborhoods nearest the river were damaged by flood waters. Some continue to be at risk and should be bought out, state and local officials say. Currently, FEMA says only a limited number of homes within the 100-year floodplain would qualify for buyouts, whereas thousands of homes outside the floodplain were damaged by flooding this year, many of which are deemed by state and local officials to be at risk for future flood damage. 

Hoeven arranged meetings with Miller this week in North Dakota at the request of state and local officials to make the case for broader home buyouts. Both senators pressed the issue with FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate in recent weeks, and Fugate assigned Miller to the case. Last week, Senator Conrad organized a call with Secretary Janet Napolitano of the Department of Homeland Security – the agency that oversees FEMA operations – to ensure full cooperation and coordination between FEMA and the state to maximize use of these resources for the fullest possible recovery. 

Senator Conrad has also had repeated conversations with the Director of the Office of Management and Budget, Jac Lew, and White House Senior Advisor Pete Rouse about both the use of hazard mitigation grant money for home buyouts and the need for additional CDBG money for North Dakota. 

In addition to Miller, joining the senators for the meeting were Congressman Rick Berg; FEMA officer Deanne Criswell; Lt. Col. Kendall Bergmann of the Army Corps of Engineers; Maj. Gen. David Sprynczynatyk of the North Dakota National Guard; North Dakota Flood Recovery Coordinator Maj. Gen. Murray Sagsveen; Minot Mayor Curt Zimbelman; Burlington Mayor and Ward County Commission Chairman Jerome Gruenberg; Velva Mayor Ken Fox; Sawyer City Auditor Cody Roteliuk; and McHenry County Commissioner Bill Goodwin. 

          Senators Hoeven and Conrad also spoke Thursday with Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan to gain support for additional Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funding, which is administered by HUD. The senators are working to secure $400 million in emergency CDBG funding to help communities nationwide, and are working to secure as much as possible of it for North Dakota. 

HMGP and CDBG provide important funding for home buyouts, and need to be coordinated with state funding for the city’s flood protection project, they say. The senators are working to ensure the majority of the approximately $60 million in HMGP dollars for North Dakota will be used similarly to CDBG funding, for home buyouts as part of the full flood protection plan. 

“We’re working with Administrator Miller to develop the flexibility to use HMGP funds to buy out homes, not only to help meet the housing challenge, but also to build strong flood protection in the most cost-effective way,” Senator Hoeven said. “In essence, HMGP dollars would function like CDBG dollars with this approach. We’re further working to leverage the effort with the FEMA Common Sense and Cost Effectiveness Act, which would allow FEMA and the Corps to build permanent dikes on flood-prone properties acquired by FEMA with HMGP funding.” 

“We all agree there is no one-size-fits-all approach to disaster recovery. Therefore we need to do everything possible to make federal resources available to those most affected, and then allow community leaders to decide how best to put those resources to use,” Senator Conrad said. “We appreciate Mr. Miller’s willingness to come to North Dakota today to see firsthand the challenges we face. And we also appreciate the support FEMA will provide in allowing local leaders greater latitude in utilizing Hazard Mitigation resources to better benefit the families most affected.” 

“This year’s flood event was devastating to the Minot community, and as families work to recover and rebuild, it’s important that they are provided with the support they need,” Berg stated. “By coming to North Dakota, FEMA officials were able to see first-hand the conditions on the ground and the unique challenges facing the Minot community. Every disaster is different, and it’s critical that FEMA works hand-in-hand with the city of Minot and empowers local officials to use HMGP resources in ways that will best address the community’s housing challenges and help the Minot families and businesses recover.” 

          Today’s meeting was a follow-up to a meeting Senator Hoeven held three weeks ago to address outstanding recovery issues. At the last meeting, city officials made the senators aware of the need to replace two city schools. In September FEMA earlier the replacement of Ramstad Middle School, which is estimated to cost about $26.2 million, and this week the agency announced that Lincoln Elementary School would be eligible for replacement. 

          In addition, as of October 19, FEMA reported it has 1075 housing units on private sites, with 894 of them licensed for occupancy, and 236 housing units on land acquired by FEMA with 130 licensed for occupancy. FEMA is also preparing 365 total pads on commercial trailer park sites, 34 of which are in Burlington. 

          The senators also gave an update on federal funding to date for the Ward County recovery effort, including Minot. Ward County Grants, loans and direct assistance to date totals $345.3 million, including the following: 

  • U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Souris River flood fight:      $24.8 million
  • Public infrastructure dollars granted to Ward County to date:$8.9 million
  • FEMA Individual Assistance, funds for Ward County to date:$89.1 million
  • SBA disaster loans, Ward County to date:                      $222.5 million 

Ward County Grants, loans and direct assistance to date:           $345.3 million