FEMA drops Port, MHRR from flood relief plan


News staff writer

December 6, 2006

While officials from the Federal Emergency Management Agency came to town last week to look at storm damage to Hood River County, their visit does not mean the county will see a dime anytime soon.

A joint team of state and federal officials toured the county Nov. 28. The state representatives were from the Oregon Emergency Management office, which toured several counties in the state during the week.

Financial and Recovery section director Abby Kershaw said the visit was a joint damage assessment only and not a final decision.

“From here it goes to the governor, and if the governor decides to go with it then he makes the request,” she said.

Kershaw said it was expected that the report would be turned in to the governor’s office this week. She said possibly a decision could be made by Wednesday whether or not Oregon will apply for federal disaster relief.

In order to qualify for aid, both the county and the state must meet separate per capita formulas. For Hood River County to qualify, it must show that $3.05 per capita in damages occurred. The state has to show an overall $1.25 per capita in damages. If the county falls short then it can’t be considered for relief. However, if the county qualifies and the state doesn’t, then it also is ineligible.

“Just meeting the per capita requirement is not automatic that funds will be given or available to the area,” Kershaw said.

She said it was possible that even if Hood River County and the state both qualify, FEMA may or may not have funds to help out. The state is still waiting to be reimbursed by the federal agency for National Guard assistance to Louisiana during Hurricane Katrina’s aftermath more than a year ago.

Hood River County had submitted an initial damage assessment of $27 million with an additional $22 million forecast in economic damages if several irrigation districts were not able to get up and running to supply agricultural needs.

The joint damage assessment dropped both the Port of Hood River and Mount Hood Railroad damage amounts from their tallies.

“They don’t qualify under FEMA,” Kershaw said. “As well, for the irrigation districts because they are covered by insurance only their deductible amounts will be considered.”

Mount Hood Railroad General Manager Michelle Marquart said their operation is disappointed they did not qualify and that they are still looking for ways to pay for damages.

The railroad has paid $110,000 so far to repair track at its .5 and.7 mile points so that the train can run to Odell. With those repairs, the operation has been able to get its seasonal “Polar Express” rides going.

“But we need to fix it so our trains can get to Parkdale,” she said. “The major damage we have to find money for is $1.5 million in damages.”

Under an emergency declaration, businesses can qualify through the Small Business Administration for low-interest disaster loans. The agency will loan money for two types of incidents including physical disasters and economic injury disasters.

But Marquart said the railroad can’t take on additional loans because it already has an operating loan and a federal railroad loan on the books. The railroad’s president, Jack Mills, approached the Port of Hood River about its situation at the port’s last meeting.

The Port of Hood River had reported $1 million in initial damage assessment because of siltation and debris that has blocked access to the port’s cruise ship dock. Floodwaters that came down the Hood River Nov. 6 and 7 dumped approximately 15 acres of sand at the mouth of the Hood River, an area being referred to for now as “the delta”. Executive Director Michael McElwee said the situation simply didn’t meet FEMA requirements.

A federal evaluation focuses on factors involving threat to life, health, or safety; special populations and considerations; critical facilities; large-scale disruptions of normal community functions and services; and technical assistance.

“We are into an assessment and planning mode,” McElwee said. That includes studying what to do plus monitoring the still-changing dynamic of the river mouth. He said as far as dredging and paying for it, the port must go back to the Army Corps of Engineers with a request.

Earlier the corps had urged the port to put in initial damages due to the corps not having the funds to do the dredging work. The corps is currently operating on a continuing resolution from the federal government to run its daily business.

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