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Feds will fully fund Rocky Boy recovery


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With a decision made over the weekend to have the federal government pay 100 percent of costs to repair eligible flood damage at Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation, a ceremony to sign an agreement to allow the money to start to flow is set for Tuesday.

Work has been ongoing in assessing damage, setting a mitigation plan and looking at specific projects and work orders.

"They' re in the queue; they're coming down the line," said Joe Castel of the Federal E m e r g e n c y Management Agency.

"When they sign the agreement, they can start to get reimbursed." FEMA Public Affairs Officer Ricardo Zunigo said Tuesday will be the first time the federal government signs a government-to-government agreement in Montana allowing an Indian tribe to directly access disaster funds instead of going through the state government. In fact, it is the first time in FEMA's six-state Region 8 that covers Montana.

It also is one of the few times in the history of the country that the government has agreed to 100-percent funding of disaster recovery.

"100-percent funding is extremely rare," he said.

At the same time, FEMA officials are working with the Hill County government to get projects and reimbursement started on flood damage in the county off of Rocky Boy.

Hill County Disaster and Emergency Services Coordinator Joe Parenteau said one project specialist started work last week and will be looking at projects with Hill County Road and Bridge Supervisor Jerry Otto and another is working with Beaver C r e e k P a r k Superintendent Chad Edgar.

Parenteau said he expects FEMA project worksheets to be assigned this week.

"So we can start getting some things going," he added.

Parenteau also added that an agricultural disaster declaration for Hill County and Rocky Boy issued by Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack also could help with the recovery.

"(That) should add some extra possibilities," Parenteau said.

The work is following two months of heavy flooding in the Bear's Paw Mountains. In May, heavy rains following heavy snows caused high runoff, creating flood damage on the reservation and throughout the park and north along Beaver Creek to the Milk River.

Then heavy rain in mid-June creatEd another flood, leading to a presidential declaration of disaster in the region. The initial estimate of the damage was $6 million, with $2.3 million eligible for public assistance.

The declaration was only for public facilities and buildings, although other routes to help pay damage could be available for property owners.

The county's disaster declaration is being administered by the state, as is required by federal law.

Rocky Boy has elected to administer its declaration itself, as is allowed under federal law.

Castel said this is the first time FEMA has worked with an Indian tribe on this level in Montana.

"We're treating them just like a state," he said.

The declaration to eliminate the cost share came after the members of Montana's congressional delegation and Gov. Brian Schweitzer added their requests for the 100-percent payment to the Chippewa Cree Tribe's request.

State Sen. Jonathan Windy Boy, D-Box Elder, also the vice chair of the Chippewa Cree Tribal council, hand-delivered a letter requesting the 100-percent federal payment t o President Barack Obama last week.

The White House press release saying the 100-percent payment had been approved by Obama said the previous authorization would have required the Tribe to pay a 25-percent cost share, in cash or through in-kind services.

Montana's U.S. senators, Max Baucus and Jon Tester, applauded the decision.

"This is an important step toward helping the Chippewa Cree Tribe of the Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation," Baucus said in a press release. "These folks have been through a nightmare and we've got to keep working together with partners on all levels to see them pull through the ongoing effects of the flooding disaster." "This is good news for the folks on the Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation because it means the community can focus on rebuilding," Tester said in the release.

Zuniga said that, aside from providing emergency services such as shelter during hurricanes or other natural disasters, providing 100-percent funiding almost never happens.

All that he has been able to find are two occaisions, a severe wildfire in New Mexico and the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, where permanent disaster recovery has been fully funded.

Both of those were mandated by Congress, he added.

Castel said that, because it is administering the declaration itself, the Tribe must be preparing a mitigation plan and sign a government - to-government agreement before it can receive funds. That signing, scheduled at 2:15 p.m. Tuesday at the Jon Morsette Memorial Vo-Tech Center at Stone Child College.

Castel said that it is difficult to work on such a plan while in the middle of a disaster recovery.

"They went the harder road, but they have had very sharp people working on this," he said. "They're doing a great job. It's a great partnership."


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