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Flood probe targets South Dakota

ST. PAUL - Minnesota leaders want to know if South Dakota actions - or inactions - 20 years ago contributed to last week's Browns Valley flood.

Attorney General Lori Swanson's spokesman said that office will investigate questions Gov. Tim Pawlenty raised Wednesday.

Prime among the questions Swanson's staff will investigate are why a 1980s plan to divert water away from Browns Valley never happened and whether a private dike made last week's flooding worse.

The governor requested Swanson begin an investigation after meeting with Browns Valley residents and government officials at all levels.

Pawlenty Chief of Staff Matt Kramer contacted his counterpart in South Dakota Gov. Mike Rounds' office to let him know Minnesota would look into the situation.

Rounds spokesman Mitch Krebs said the South Dakota governor was traveling Wednesday and could not react to Minnesota's concerns.

Browns Valley is a 650-population town in a west-central Minnesota area that juts into South Dakota. More than 50 homes were severely damaged by floodwaters.

Pawlenty raised a concern about a dike built on private South Dakota land and whether it sent water into Browns Valley. News reports indicate fields behind the dike were dry, the only area not affected by floodwaters.

"Some residents have questioned whether the dike contributed to the extent and severity of flooding in Browns Valley," Pawlenty said.

He said there are questions whether the dike was lawfully built and whether adequate notice was given Minnesota landowners before it was built.

The Minnesota governor also questioned why a 1980s effort to build a ditch to divert water away from Browns Valley never was built.

"There may have been resistance from private landowners, including landowners in South Dakota," Pawlenty wrote to Swanson.

Pawlenty wondered whether the two states and federal government should have condemned the land they needed for the ditch. He also asked Swanson if that option remains available.

Looking ahead, Pawlenty wanted to know if there are any legal options for Browns Valley residents.

In the meantime, legislators are taking seriously some Pawlenty requests to help Browns Valley.

An education funding proposal released Wednesday by Senate Democrats includes school funding assistance for Browns Valley. The bill calls for $18,000 in declining enrollment financial aid in 2007 and another $192,000 in the two-year budget period beginning July 1.

Earlier this week, House Democrats suggested borrowing money to help Browns Valley.

Pawlenty also asked a variety of other funding measures to help the community.

State Capitol Bureau reporter Scott Wente contributed to this story.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.