Wednesday, February 22, 2012
Governor Kitzhaber sent a formal request Thursday to President Obama asking for a federal disaster declaration due to statewide damage caused by severe winter storms in mid-January.
Hood River County was added to a list of 12 counties in Oregon that incurred enough damage during the weather event to qualify for Federal Emergency Management Agency assistance. In all, the week of intense snow, rain, ice, flooding and landslides caused tens of millions of dollars in damage in the 12 counties. Gov. Kitzhaber's office reported eligible public costs for the disaster at about $16.3 million statewide, as well as another $19.5 million in federal highway damage.
In Hood River County, damage to public infrastructure was estimated at $1.5 million. The figure is an estimate of damage to certain services and public agencies and does not include damage to private businesses or homes. The lion's share of the estimate came from Hood River Electric Co-op for significant damage to power lines and poles, the City of Hood River for expenses related to dealing with a landslide that threatened the city water line and Farmers Irrigation District for electrical damage and revenue lost from halting hydroelectricity production.
Shortly after the storm event, Gov. Kitzhaber directed the Office of Emergency Management to gather damage assessment data by county. FEMA and other personnel visited each county to gather information and make assessments. Benton, Columbia, Coos, Curry, Douglas, Hood River, Lane, Lincoln, Linn, Marion, Polk and Tillamook counties were added to the Governor's letter.
If President Obama signs the declaration - which he is expected to do - FEMA will begin the detailed process of determining exactly how much each county will receive in relief funds.
"The resilience of our citizens and communities is impressive, but we must continue to assist counties that suffered significant damages from these severe winter storms," said Governor Kitzhaber. "Federal disaster aid will be essential to help our citizens and local governments fully recover."
Hood River County is no stranger to the FEMA process. The county has received emergency funding for three of the last six years (assuming it gets funding this year). Most recently, storms in 2008 blanketed the county in several feet of snow and shut down major roads and highways, including Interstate 84, for several days. Through FEMA funding, the county was able recuperate most of the cost associated with snow removal. FEMA funds were also awarded for storm-related damage in 1996, 2003 and 2006.
"We are sure we have met the threshold for infrastructure damage, so the county will be included in the disaster declaration," said Karl Tesch, Hood River County Emergency Management officer. "Once the declaration comes down from the President, that's when the real process begins. At that point, a team will assemble and work out how much each county will receive and where the money will go."
For Hood River county, the threshold for damage to private homes and businesses was not met. Only four of the 12 worst-hit counties on the declaration were on the Governor's letter for private property disaster relief.