DULUTH, Minn. -- While people are watching hurricane preparations along the East Coast, individuals and communities in northeastern Minnesota are still receiving disaster assistance from a number of federal and state agencies that are working together to provide funding for debris removal costs and fire prevention programs.
The July 4th severe storms that stuck the area, packing Category II hurricane force wind speeds, damaged almost half a million acres of forest -- both on public and private land. "We realize the damaged trees and debris pose a serious fire hazard, which no one in the affected area should ignore," Bill Powers, Federal Emergency Management Agency's (FEMA) Federal Coordinating Officer said. "There are several disaster assistance programs that will provide debris removal funds for eligible permanent residents, business owners, communities, and county and state agencies."
Under the presidential disaster declaration, FEMA and Minnesota Division of Emergency Management (DEM) are working in partnership with a wide variety of agencies, including the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), U. S. Forest Service (USFS), U.S. Fire Administration (USFA), Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), Minnesota Recovers Task Force, Minnesota Incident Fire Center, Minnesota Department of Trade and Economic Development, Minnesota Department of Economic Security, and Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
While it is impossible to ensure the removal of every downed tree or all storm debris, state and federal disaster officials believe the financial assistance will help individuals and communities begin the recovery process and reduce future damage losses. Permanent residents may be eligible for disaster housing grants if downed trees and debris fell on or very near their homes or if debris blocked their immediate entrances or exits. Homeowners and business insurance may also cover debris removal. Individuals should check with their insurance agent to determine if their policy provides this type of coverage.
Homeowners and business owners may also be eligible for funds to cover additional debris removal through the SBA's low-interest disaster loan program. Typically, the SBA will consider debris removal within a one-acre area around the structure. Physical damage to the home or business is not required to be eligible for these loans. Disaster loans for this specific purpose are limited to $200,000 for a homeowner and $1.5 million for a business owner. Seasonal or second homes are not eligible.
If you have questions about debris removal assistance, please call the toll-free FEMA Helpline at 1-800-525-0321 or the SBA Helpline at 1-800-359-2227.
"We are also working with more than 130 community and county representatives throughout the declared area to ensure that all the eligible debris removal costs are considered," Kevin Leuer, the Director of DEM and State Coordinating Officer, said. "Debris removal costs were approximately a third of the estimated $14 million in public damage that was originally reported. We realize that amount may climb even higher."
Federal assistance is also available to the state and local communities for clearing emergency access routes and clearing debris on trails in public and state areas. FEMA provides 75 percent of these funds, the state covers 15 percent, and the community will be responsible for the remaining 10 percent.
Although the most severe blowndown areas are located within the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW), almost 150,000 acres of damaged trees and debris are outside the wilderness boundaries on state, public and private land. The U.S. Forest Service is moving quickly to address a number of fire suppression or firefighting issues and working to keep wildfires from spreading into developed areas. Priorities are being given to high public use areas, such as th...