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Packed house of local officials gets help with FEMA forms

Township, city, school and county officials file for Federal Emergency Management Agency reimbursement funds for flood-related expenses.

It looks like everybody and their mother is interested in flood relief.

The large conference room at the community and technical school in Detroit Lakes was full Wednesday afternoon, as officials from townships, cities, school districts and other entities -- including Becker, Hubbard and Mahnomen counties -- packed in to file for Federal Emergency Management Agency reimbursement for flood-related expenses.

Those counties qualified for FEMA help for expenses because -- based on preliminary damage estimates -- the counties met the FEMA threshold of $3.22 per person, according to Ed Edahl, public information officer with FEMA.

At the applications briefing, local officials were walked through the process of filling out forms by John Moore, disaster recovery coordinator for the Minnesota Department of Public Safety.

The meeting only covered public expenses, not private damages, related to the flooding.

Expenses incurred on March 16 and later are eligible for FEMA reimbursement, Moore said.

The federal agency pays 75 percent and state and local governments split the rest, based on a formula that is usually 15 percent state and 10 percent local, but has not been determined yet in Minnesota. Gov. Pawlenty has proposed that the state pay the full 25 percent, but the Legislature will make that determination.

Qualifying expenses include things like debris removal, road washouts, culvert repair work, sandbagging and dike building, police and fire department overtime.

"It includes all the damages associated with this declared disaster -- it can't be an inflated cost, it has to be the reasonable cost you'd pay if FEMA wasn't here," Moore said.

FEMA has received more than 160 application from public entities in the area, Moore said.

There's a certain amount of flexibility in FEMA funding -- money from smaller damages can be lumped together towards a large project, for example, but local officials have to first clear it with FEMA field workers, Moore said.

About 100 local officials attended the meeting, and Moore urged them not to procrastinate.

"The clock is ticking on a lot of this stuff," he said. "It's important that FEMA business be taken care of promptly."

On Tuesday, FEMA will hold a kickoff meeting to go through the local funding requests.