The work of a federal agency to find projects to repair flood damage in north-central Montana is wrapping up, with local officials saying the real work is getting started in earnest.
“Hopefully we will be getting some major repairs made shortly and things will be getting back to normal,” Joe Parenteau, Hill County Disaster and Emergency Services coordinator, said this morning.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency has been in the area since mid-June, after a heavy rain starting June 15 created significant flooding on Rocky Boy’s Indian Reservation and in Hill and Chouteau counties off the reservation.
President Barack Obama declared the region a federal disaster area in July, leading to FEMA working with the local governments to assign projects and federal funding to emergency repairs already made and to repair projects declared by the governments.
Neal Rosette Sr., a disaster incident administrator for Rocky Boy, said this morning that 95 percent of the FEMA workers have pulled out of the reservation, with just a few in the planning department still there. Those workers will be leaving Oct. 8, he said.
Rocky Boy elected to administer its disaster management itself, the first sovereign Indian nation in FEMA’s six-state Region 8 to do so.
The reservation also received approval for the federal government to pick up 100 percent of the cost of repairs — the third time in the history of FEMA that full funding has been approved for disaster repairs.
Rosette said some projects — including replacing the new clinic that was wiped out by the flooding — are still in the works. So far, 121 projects have been approved with some 20 more in the planning stages, with a total price tag of more than $30 million, he said.
On a bright note for the economy, the disaster will bring some real money to the area, he added.
“That’s really a $150 million shot in the arm, once each dollar turns around five times,” Rosette said.
The biggest project will be the clinic, which received structural damage when the flooding caused the recently completed building to settle. Rosette said the exact amount of that still is being worked out.
The rest of the projects range through a variety of repairs, down to repairing mold damage in residences on the reservation.
Rosette said most of the work for repairs will be done through Tribal members, including using the Tribally owned Chippewa Cree Construction Corp. Some specialty work will have to be contracted out, likely to contractors in the area.
Some projects, such as replacing a mile of water line or moving or rebuilding homes, is being done or about to start, he said.
Parenteau said the FEMA projects included paying for emergency work done during or shortly after the flooding, and setting projects for other repairs.
FEMA has pulled out of the county, and the county officials now will be working with the state DES coordinators on the project. As required by federal law, the state government must administer the program, with the county government acting as a subgrantee.
Those included nine projects for road work, the final amounts of which still are being set, and about 17 other projects on the park.
Parenteau estimated that the final amount on the projects will come to about $400,000, with much of that from road work.
Some of the projects in the works include mitigating future problems, he added. One example is replacing a 40-foot foot bridge over Beaver Creek at the Boy Scout Campground with a 60-foot bridge.
That should prevent the new bridge from washing away the next time a flood comes through, Parenteau said, adding that the same kind of mitigation is planned for Lions, Firemans, Hagener and the Railroad Pager campgrounds.
Another mitigation project is to reinforce the culvert that washed out between the Woodring and Firemans campgrounds.
“It will hopefully prevent that from doing it again,” he said.
Other mitigation plans will be looked at as the planning proceeds, Parenteau added.
Rosette said he wanted to compliment the FEMA officials on the work they did helping Rocky Boy set up the administration of its own disaster program and in setting the projects up.
“This is the most productive federal agency we've ever had the pleasure of working with,” he said. “These folks were out to help, and they really did help. They are first-class civil servants.”