Millions approved for disaster reliefBISMARCK — Flood-impacted communities and oil and gas counties are one vote away from millions of dollars in additional disaster relief.
By: Teri Finneman, The Dickinson Press
BISMARCK — Flood-impacted communities and oil and gas counties are one vote away from millions of dollars in additional disaster relief.
On Thursday, the North Dakota Senate unanimously passed the disaster relief bill. The House is expected to approve the bill today.
Sen. Tony Grindberg, R-Fargo, said the bill is a step forward to help North Dakotans and is a bridge until legislators can consider additional relief in 2013.
Overall, the bill includes $159 million in state general funds. There is also $80 million in special funds, and the Department of Transportation’s borrowing authority was increased by $80 million for emergency relief projects.
The state is waiting to hear if it will receive $235 million in federal community development block grants. Senate Minority Leader Ryan Taylor of Towner unsuccessfully tried again Thursday to put a provision in the bill saying the state would replace any shortfall in this federal funding.
Sen. Ray Holmberg, R-Grand Forks, said the move would set a precedent that the state would be expected to pick up every shortfall in federal funding for state agencies, “which would be a nightmare.”
The bill includes $50 million for a rebuilders loan program to help North Dakotans rebuild their flood-damaged home or buy a new home. Residents who incurred flood damage in Barnes, Benson, Burleigh, McHenry, Morton, Ramsey, Renville, Richland and Ward counties would be eligible.
To qualify, their property value must be reduced from its preflood value, and they must show actual damage. Individual loans would be up to $30,000 with a fixed interest rate of 1 percent. Principal and interest payments would be deferred for the first two years of the loan.
Residents would apply to their local banks for the loan. The Bank of North Dakota would then buy the loan. Bank of North Dakota President Eric Hardmeyer expects the program could help more than 2,000 homeowners.
Sen. George Nodland, R-Dickinson, said the terms of the loan program are “unheard of.”
“We’re really being good to people,” he said. “I think this is very generous.”
The bill also includes $10 million for the adjutant general to provide additional rebuilders loan program funding to the Bank of North Dakota and funding to political subdivisions for flood-impacted housing rehabilitation.
There is also $30 million for flood-impacted political subdivision infrastructure development grants. Counties, cities, school districts and other political subdivisions in the above nine counties would be eligible.
The Department of Transportation would receive $6 million to provide grants to Devils Lake basin counties for road grade raising projects on federal-aid eligible roads. The Highway Patrol would receive $682,000 to hire four new patrol officers in western North Dakota.
The bill also provides an additional $30 million for the oil and gas impact grant fund. Requests related to emergency services would receive priority.
The bill also includes an additional $23 million for transportation funding distributions to non-oil counties, with $14.5 million used to distribute $10,000 to each township. The remaining $8.5 million will be split among cities, counties and townships.
Lawmakers also included $1 million for a potential lawsuit or other proceedings involving the EPA’s regulation of hydraulic fracturing.
After a busy week also spent approving a redistricting plan, repealing the Fighting Sioux nickname and debating a state-created insurance exchange, legislators will wrap up the special session today.
Finneman is a multimedia reporter for Forum Communications Co.