With President Barack Obama declaring on Friday a major national disaster in Montana due to the widespread flooding, officials in the region are preparing for the next phase — to work with the federal disaster agency to evaluate the damage, list projects and prepare worksheets to get help paying for those projects.
Joe Parenteau, Hill County disaster and emergency services coordinator, said today the Federal Emergency Management Agency will assemble teams to come to each county and reservation included in the disaster declaration.
That list also could expand if additional flooding occurs or more damage is discovered, and possibly could include private property.
“A lot of people, like we are, are still trying to assess the damages, ” Parenteau said.
The declaration comes just a few weeks short of the one-year anniversary of President Barack Obama’s 2010 disaster declaration for flooding in Hill County and on Rocky Boy’s Indian Reservation.
This year, the flooding is much more widespread. The declaration includes 31 counties and four Indian reservations, with more likely to be added as flooding continues.
Fort Belknap and Rocky Boy’s Indian reservations are included in the declaration, as are Hill, Blaine and Chouteau counties.
The declaration states it is for flooding starting April 4, with the end date still open.
State Disaster and Emergency Services will schedule initial meetings with each jurisdiction, in which applicants for aid will register with DES.
The state will be the main grantee for the disaster, with the local governments and eligible organizations subgrantees.
Indian reservations can apply to be main grantees and administer their own disaster recovery, as Rocky Boy did during last year’s declaration. The Chippewa Cree were the first tribe in FEMA’s Region 8 to administer their own federal disaster recovery.
Parenteau said that this year, private property owners also may be eligible for financial assistance.
As of now, only public infrastructure, including government-owned property and property maintained by eligible non-profit groups like some cooperatives, are eligible. Last year’s disaster allowed only public and nonprofit groups to apply for aid.
Parenteau said the state DES is accepting damage assessments from private property owners, for both residences and business structures, to see if private property also could be eligible for assistance.
The forms can be obtained online, at http://dma.mt.gov/des/estdamages.asp, or at the local county health department. Parenteau said the forms should be filled out and returned to him at the county DES office, at the Hill County Courthouse Annex with the County Health Department.
He said the sooner people can return damage estimates, the better chance the property could be included for assistance.
The members of Montana’s congressional delegation have been active in surveying the flood damage, working with the state and local jurisdictions and pressing the federal government to provide as much aid as possible, as quickly as possible.
“This is welcome news for Montana’s working families who, through no fault of their own, find themselves in a desperate situation, ” Rep. Denny Rehberg, R-Mont., said in a press release Friday. “Montanans are always eager to pitch in and help a neighbor in need, but when disaster strikes sometimes the necessary response is too great for state and local government alone.
“I’ll keep working with federal agencies to make sure Montana’s interests are recognized and our needs are met, ” Rehberg added.
U. S. Sens. Max Baucus and Jon Tester, both Montana Democrats, also applauded the declaration and offered assistance to anyone needing it.
“In times of disaster our most important resource is each other and it’s going to take teamwork at every level to overcome the devastation of these floods. From the neighbor down the street in Roundup to the federal disaster agencies in Washington, we’re all in this together, and you can count on us to do our part to make sure Montana communities get the help they need, ” Baucus said in a joint press release Friday. “We’re here to fight for Montana, so I urge Montana communities having trouble applying for disaster assistance to contact my office for help right away. ”
“This declaration will mean a faster recovery for our communities hit hard by flooding, ” Tester added. “As folks across Montana keep having to deal with rising water, and as we start the process of rebuilding, I will work to keep cutting through the red tape to get the tools needed to make our communities and our economy even stronger. ”
Flooding has caused damage throughout the region, although not to the extent as in other parts of Montana such as Roundup or Glasgow.
Fort Belknap Indian Reservation has experienced flooding in its northeastern portion since March, with families displaced several times by rising water. A storm also caused flooding in Hays and Lodge Pole in May, and rising levels of the Milk River displaced several more families who live in the river valley near the Fort Belknap Agency.
Blaine County off of the reservation also experienced flooding, although not to the levels expected in March.
Early in the season, high levels of snow in northern Hill and Blaine counties raised concerns that heavy flooding could occur in those counties. Flood watches and warnings were in effect for much of the spring and early summer in those counties.
The flooding did not lead to the damage feared, including concern that the towns of Chinook and Harlem could be heavily flooded.
Rising stream and river levels did lead to lowland flooding and road and other infrastructure damage, including some six to eight families leaving their homes due to flooding this month.
A heavy rainstorm in the Bear’s Paw Mountains in early June led to flooding in Rocky Boy’s Indian Reservation and in the county off of the reservation.
Beaver Creek Park Superintendent Chad Edgar estimated that the damage in the park this year was more extensive than in the flood last year that led to the presidential disaster declaration in Hill County and Rocky Boy.
Flooding also occurred this year on lower Beaver Creek, inundating homes and the Beaver Creek Golf Course.
That flood also damaged Rocky Boy’s Indian Reservation, although not to the extent of last year’s flood. The two months of flooding in 2010 caused some $30 million in damage on the reservation, including making a $12 million recently constructed clinic unusable.
Flooding also occurred in other nearby counties including Chouteau.