By Ross Markman
Hill County is now eligible for more than $55,000 in federal disaster aid, about a week after the Federal Emergency Management Agency reassessed the aftermath of a severe storm that struck the area last month.
Already eligible for assistance were Glacier, Liberty, Pondera and Toole counties, and the Blackfeet Indian Reservation.
"Initially Hill County was not included because it didn't meet the threshold for damages," FEMA spokesman Jerry DeFelice said.
"It was a road damage that was not reported as part of the initial assessment that put them over the top," he added. "That, coupled with other damages, qualified the county for public assistance."
The route in question is Bullhook Road going up toward Saddle Butte southeast of Havre. During the June storm and ensuing flood, water rushed off a steep hill and eroded part of the gravel road, Hill County Commissioner Doug Kaercher said.
The damage to Bullhook Road is estimated at $32,000.
The rest of the damage, Kaercher said, is split among a half-dozen other sites, including areas north of Rudyard and Inverness where stormwater ravaged roads in the Big Sage Creek drainage.
"What we did is we left Hill County open and we continued to take reports of damage," said Monique Lay, spokeswoman for Montana Disaster and Emergency Services. "Based on the new figures, Hill County did meet the threshold, so we went ahead and resubmitted that to FEMA and they did approve."
When public facilities like roads are damaged, the county is responsible for the repair, Lay said. But sometimes, she added, the cost of fixing the damage is too much for the county to handle.
"If that disaster is of a high enough magnitude and the county can't afford it, then they turn to the state, then to the federal government," she said. "It's like an insurance policy."
Under President Bush's July 3 disaster declaration, the federal government will pay for 75 percent of eligible disaster-related costs. In his declaration, he approved federal aid to help reimburse state and local governments for cleaning up after the storms.
Bush's order declaring the storms a disaster in the state came in response to a request last month from Gov. Judy Martz.
The assistance also makes cost-share funding available to the state for approved projects that reduce further disaster risks.
Assistance includes debris removal, emergency services, and the repair of public facilities like roads and bridges. Bush's declaration does not include federal help to individuals and businesses.
FEMA officials estimated the storm caused about $1.6 million in total damages in the five counties.
Even though Hill County had to wait for its disaster relief, Kaercher is happy it received something.
"(The other counties) had much more extensive damage. We're at the bottom of the pole," he said. "I think we're satisfied in the fact that we're eligible for at least some money."