Federal storm money flows in

From FEMA, county recoups most of its 2012 emergency costs, totaling $880,000

As wind gusts blasted through the Gorge and freezing rain pelted trees and roadways last week, one could be forgiven for looking at the weather forecast with a bit of nervousness.

Last January the Hood River area was put into a week-long deep-freeze which snapped trees, brought down power lines and turned roads into sheets of ice.

This time the county dodged the winter weather bullet for the most part, and the agencies that have spent much of the last year cleaning up the mess are getting back to normal.

Hood River County public entities submitted $800,000 in costs for disaster response to FEMA, which was allowed to distribute disaster relief funds following a 2012 presidential declaration of emergency. The county is getting back nearly all of the percentage of funds it is entitled to receive.

In total they will be receiving over a half-million dollars in federal disaster relief funds.

“We did really well for cost recovery,” said Hood River County Emergency Program Manager Karl Tesch. “Unfortunately we were not able to get any for businesses or private entities because we did not meet the criteria.”

“We really appreciate the work Karl did on this,” said County Administrator David Meriwether.

FEMA can refund 75 percent of costs accrued through disaster response, and Tesch said the county had over 95 percent of its submissions approved for the 75 percent reimbursement.

John Gerstenberger, general manager fro Hood River Electric Co-op, was equally effusive in his praise.

The co-op has spent about $250,000 on repairs related to the storm and Gerstenberger said they have received $193,000 in reimbursements so far.

“We are thrilled to get that and grateful to county and emergency management folks for getting the disaster declaration,” Gerstenberger said. “Also, they helped us identify that we did qualify ... We had never requested any (disaster relief funds) before.”

All told, county entities which applied, including the county, the City of Hood River, the City of Cascade Locks and Hood River Electric Co-op, are in line to receive $566,496 of which $490,776 has been paid. The co-op received around $193,000 of that amount; and the county, as a single entity, received $75,000 to help cover the costs of fire districts and response by the sheriff’s department.

Much of the Hood River Electric Co-op money goes to reimburse other electric companies that stepped in to help during a time where Hood River Electric’s own crews were working around the clock for five days straight.

Harney Electric, Umatilla Electric, Oregon Trail Electric and Wasco County Electric all sent crews to help out during the storm.

“Things fell apart about the 19th (Jan.) but we had most everybody back on by the 23rd; within a week we had most things put back together, a few customers out for about a week,” Gerstenberger said. “We were going 24 hours a day for at least five days.”

Since the storm, the co-op has also had to go back and do more permanent repairs, such as replacing broken poles that only received quick emergency repairs during the storm’s aftermath, plus moving lines underground in a few places.

According to Tesch, the turnaround time on getting the reimbursements from FEMA was actually fairly quick; in large part because the county was quick to perform a damage assessment and having the paperwork ready to go.

“Once you have gone through four or five you get a handle on it and by the time the feds come down you have the paperwork ready,” said Tesch, who has worked in the county’s emergency management department since 1992.

Tesch credited the county fire districts and building inspector Mark Van Voast for gathering data so quickly and County Budget Director Sandra Borowy for handling a lot of the damage claims.

Life is slowly getting back to normal as the federal money flows in.

In the county forests, forester Doug Theises was quite glad last week’s wind and ice didn’t have much of an effect.

The previous year’s storm took a devastating toll on county timber, leading to numerous salvage sales over the past year, including several on popular mountain biking trails.

Thieses said the county still has a few salvage sales to come, but that he “can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel.”

He called last week’s freezing rain and ice essentially a “non-story, forest-wise” and would like to see things continue to be that way this winter.

“I’d be fine with just a plain old winter this year,” he said.

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