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Nobles County to address Hazard Mitigation Plan

January 3, 2011
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From the Worthington Daily Globe:

County to address Hazard Mitigation Plan

One concern is flood plains and why people can build in them
WORTHINGTON — The Nobles County Planning Commission took the first step Wednesday night in approving an update to the county’s All Hazard Mitigation Plan. The document paves the way for the county to access federal funds that could alleviate some of the costs of mitigating natural, man-made or technological disasters.

By: Julie Buntjer, Worthington Daily Globe

WORTHINGTON — The Nobles County Planning Commission took the first step Wednesday night in approving an update to the county’s All Hazard Mitigation Plan. The document paves the way for the county to access federal funds that could alleviate some of the costs of mitigating natural, man-made or technological disasters.

Nobles County was among the first in southwest Minnesota to write its initial mitigation plan back in 2004. The plan must be updated every five years for counties to remain eligible for additional mitigation funding.

The Southwest Regional Development Commission in Slayton wrote the initial plan for Nobles County, and the SRDC’s John Shepard worked with Emergency Management Director Dan Anderson on the update. It will be presented to county commissioners in January for approval before being forwarded to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for its acceptance.

Shepard said hazard mitigation planning began several years ago as people looked for ways to avoid costly damages in the event of a disaster. One of their biggest concerns was flood plains and why people were allowed to build in them. In Minnesota, areas of scrutiny included two major flood plains — the Red and Mississippi river valleys. After the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, technical hazards were also added into mitigation planning.

“It’s not about response — it’s about being prepared for responses,” Shepard told planning commission members Wednesday. “How do we reduce the risk of future losses — how can we limit the costs of those disasters?”

Anderson said they spent two years working on an update of the plan, completing a “thorough analysis” of any type of potential disaster in Nobles County. Once they had the list, rankings were made to identify those events most likely to occur, such as blizzards, winter storms, hail and severe summer storms; to those less likely to occur — earthquakes or dam failures.

“The federal government and the state want to see where our weaknesses lie and what we can do about it, then they will give us grant money,” said Anderson.

“Clearly, we can’t mitigate tornadoes, but we can build tornado shelters,” he added. Examples could be constructing tornado shelters in the public campgrounds in Nobles County.

One new element of the update includes Kanaranzi Creek in Adrian, where a build-up of tree debris in the creek added to flooding problems a couple of times in the last decade. By identifying the problem in the mitigation plan, Anderson said they could get funds to help clean up the creek. The particular problem in Adrian has already been fixed through other funding.

Mitigation projects can receive a 50 percent funding match — money that comes from presidential disaster declarations. Anderson said the county would automatically receive financial assistance for a presidential disaster declaration, but without a mitigation plan in place, they cannot access mitigation funding.

During the meeting, Shepard was asked if townships in some of the counties over-report damage to access FEMA funds for repairs. The question stemmed from some townships reporting thousands of dollars in damage, while a neighboring township reported nothing.

Shepard said townships must complete a lot of paperwork to access FEMA funds, which inhibits some from filing the reports.

“In 2008 and 2010, I don’t think anyone asked for more than what they needed,” Anderson said. “If nothing else, some didn’t report enough (damage) in Nobles County. There’s no township that has ever cried wolf, from what I’ve seen.

“FEMA gives you a fair shake — they give you exactly what you need,” he added.

Paul Hohensee, Bigelow fire chief, asked if there was any money available through FEMA for rural signage.

“We’ve gone to the county commissioners and they seem to drag their feet and spend their money on things that are not as important,” Hohensee told the planning commission.

“There were several people that talked to us and said it wasn’t necessary because they already had street signs,” responded Diane Thier, who represents the county board on the planning commission.

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