State lawmakers are asking about money left over from 2007 flood recovery projects as they prepare for a special session to discuss the damage caused by last month's flooding, according to state transportation officials.
Engineers from the Minnesota Department of Transportation worked with Winona and Houston county officials Friday to gather information about unfinished recovery work funded by 2007 bonding.
The data will go into a report for state lawmakers to use during the special session. That special session was originally pegged for this upcoming week, but on Friday afternoon, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty postponed it while the state awaits word from President Barack Obama whether he'll declare the Minnesota counties, including Winona and Wabasha, federal disaster areas and eligible for federal aid.
Recent flooding left Minnesota with $64.1 million in damage, according to preliminary estimates.
"They're trying to see if there's money out there that isn't being used," said Steve Kirsch, MnDOT assistant district engineer. "The Legislature is just doing its due diligence."
Rep. Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa, said he hasn't heard of any plans by the Legislature to consider 2007 dollars for recent flood recovery efforts.
"I'm not aware of anybody that has suggested something like that," he said. "I would say that's a flawed assumption by that guy."
Winona County has only been reimbursed for a portion of the nearly $12 million allocated in 2007, but the rest is linked to projects the county has already paid for or plans to complete by 2011, County Engineer Dave Kramer said.
The county had more than 70 recovery projects approved by the state and is still repairing flood damage on County Road 106 near Lewiston and County Road 11 near the Houston County border.
"It would not be the right thing to do to pull those funds back," Kramer said. "I think it would create a hardship for Winona County."
The money isn't handed to the county in a large chunk. County officials pay contracting and construction fees and submit expenses to the state after work is completed. Progress in Winona and Houston counties has moved slowly because of extensive damage.
"They have plans in place and they know how it's going to be used and that's going to be relayed to the Legislature," Kirsch said.
Five counties in southeastern Minnesota qualified for $26 million in state aid after 2007 flooding. Winona and Houston counties received the bulk of the money, each qualifying for more than $11 million, and both have money waiting for reimbursement.
State lawmakers are curious about the balance in the state's bonding account and want to know if any of that money can be used for much-needed recovery in areas struck by last month's flooding, Kirsch said.
"It seems like a reasonable question to ask," he said. "If it's not going to be used, why not free that up?"
Legislators are probably just making sure counties need the money, Kramer said.
"It makes some sense to ask," he said. "And my answer would be, ‘Yes, we do.'"