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FEMA en route to help with disaster repairs


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The Federal E m e r g e n c y Ma n a g eme n t Agency is setting up a disaster field office in Great Falls to house 50 workers who will help local governments deal with damage caused on Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation and in Hill County by flooding in June.

"They will be just like ants crawling over that park in the next few days." Ed Gierke, Montana Disaster and Emergency Services district coordinator, said during a meeting of the county Local Emergency Planning Committee Tuesday.

Heavy rains in mid-June, following high snowmelt and rain in May in the Bear's Paw Mountains, led to flooding of Beaver Creek through Beaver Creek Park and north to the Milk River.

Extensive flooding on Rocky Boy also occurred.

Gierke and Joe Parenteau, Hill County DES coordinator, briefed the Hill County commissioners, county department heads and later the LEPC about what the disaster declaration made by President Barack Obama July 10 will mean to the area.

"It's going to save Hill County a lot of money. It's going to save the taxpayers of Hill County because they'll be able to spread that cost out over the whole nation …, and you'll get your park back," Gierke said.

Neal Rosette, public information officer for the Chippewa Cree Tribal government at Rocky Boy, said Monday that the work dealing with the flooding there is draining the Tribe's resources. Aid from the federal government to help pay for the work is crucial, he said.

Gierke said the hope is that work along Beaver Creek will be completed by September, although the work on Rocky Boy, which is in both Hill and Chouteau counties, probably will take at least two years.

"We think this thing is going to run $3 million before it's done," he added.

"That's the preliminary estimation between the two counties." The next step will be FEMA setting up a meeting with government officials to discuss the damages, assess needs and put in place a plan of action.

Gierke said the work of FEMA and other state and federal agencies in assessing the damage was simply to determine if a disaster declaration Could be made.

"That's what a preliminary damage assessment is," he said.

"Do you meet the threshold?" He said FEMA was leasing a building in Great Falls to house its disaster field office. That location was chosen to provide access to the international airport there, he said, based on the transportation needs of the agency.

Gierke said the disaster will not cover individual assistance because the damage to private property was not extensive enough. The funds allowed through the presidential declaration are only for public assistance, he said, not to aid individuals, as happens in some disaster declarations.

"This isn't like Katrina. It's not like what's going on down in the Gulf right now," he said.

He added that the disaster funding will repair eligible damage to how it was before the flooding occurred. Another program could provide additional funds to improve those areas, he added.

The Hazard Mitigation Grant Program provides funds to improve areas during a disaster recovery period to prevent loss of life and property in future disasters.

Gierke said the program provides an additional 15 percent of the amount covered by a disaster declaration to improve areas impacted. That could lead to building better bridges, improving berms to prevent future flooding and so on.

He added that the mitigation projects could be delayed because they must go through an environmental impact statement process before that work can be done. Disaster repairs and emergency work can begin immediately.

He said the FEMA workers will be out in the area working with Tribal and county officials to assess specific damage and assign specific project numbers to jobs.

"As soon as they give you a number you can get going," he said.

He added during the LEPC meeting that most projects will likely be done by local contractors or by the departments of the county or Tribal governments, depending on the work.

Rocky Boy has decided to manage the work allowed under the presidential declaration itself, which is allowed for sovereign Indian nations, Gierke said.

In Hill County, the state public assistance officer will administer the federal declaration, as is required by federal law, he said.


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