Local, state and federal officials meet to address flooding disaster relief (with audio)

Brad Bartholomew from the Utah Division of Emergency Management explains the disaster recovery and reimbursement process for public officials at an applicant briefing in Brigham City on Thursday, May 11, 2017. 

CACHE COUNTY/BOX ELDER COUNTY —The <a href=”https://dem.utah.gov/2017/04/21/news-release-president-signs-disaster-declaration-for-utah/”>Utah Division of Emergency Management</a> (DEM) and the <a href=”https://www.fema.gov/”>Federal Emergency Management Agency</a> (FEMA) met with public officials in Cache and Box Elder counties on Thursday to address the public assistance available to municipalities and eligible nonprofit organizations as a result of regional flooding that took place February 7-27, 2017. The relief is available as the result of a <a href=”https://dem.utah.gov/2017/04/21/news-release-president-signs-disaster-declaration-for-utah/”>Disaster Declaration for Utah</a> signed by President Trump in April. The economic impact of the disaster has been calculated at $5,983,005, over 80 percent of which is damage to roads and culverts.

Joe Dougherty, the Utah DEM’s public information officer, described the meetings, which took place in Brigham City and Logan, as the first step in helping applicants for assistance understand the disaster recovery process itself and the extensive documentation they will need to compile and then submit to the state and FEMA.

 “We want to help the local cities and the county understand that you’re going to have to go through a long process,” Dougherty explained, “but then FEMA will be available to reimburse you for eligible expenses, which is amazing because FEMA reimburses up to 75 percent of your eligible costs.”

Dougherty said the process is new to many who participated in the meetings because Utah has so few disasters compared to other states. While he recognizes that applying for FEMA assistance can be overwhelming and cumbersome, Dougherty said it’s for a good cause.

“The reimbursement that comes for infrastructure assistance helps alleviate a huge burden from a city that wasn’t planning to spend $100,000 on road projects this year,” he said.  “That wasn’t in the plan! And so an unexpected expense—it’s like this happens and you say, ‘Look, there’s someone who’s going to help me out of this.’”

Jake Unguren, deputy state coordinating officer for this disaster, helped participating organizations get a head start yesterday by providing an overview of the <a href=”https://sites.google.com/site/utahdisasterrecovery/disasterprocess”>disaster declaration and recovery process</a>. His presentation addressed jurisdictional responsibility, damage assessments, how to request aid and other procedural nuances. 

Unguren said any time a disaster occurs, the primary responsibility to respond to it, recover from it and mitigate its effects lies with local government. State and federal assistance, he said, is appropriate only when “the effects of an emergency are beyond the ability of local resources to mitigate effectively.”

“All disasters are local first, and so cities and counties have the first responsibility for responding,” Dougherty further explained.  “When they get overwhelmed, they can request aid from the state.  And in the case of Box Elder County, at one point they needed 11,000 sandbags and so we bought them 11,000 sandbags and sent them up there. So in response time, that’s what we do. We find resources. When we go into disaster recovery, the state is the main grantee of all reimbursements, and then we pass through the reimbursements to the affected cities and counties.”

As municipal and county governments begin the collaboration process with Utah DEM and FEMA to recover from the February flooding, they will work closely with FEMA specialists assembled from a nationwide team based in Denver, Colorado. Working under a strict timeline, the collaborative teams will begin making site visits in the weeks ahead to develop project worksheets, and Unguren said mitigation experts in the state will be available for continued support even after the FEMA team leaves.

“The thing to take away is that everyone here is here to help you navigate your way through all the ins and outs of this process,” Unguren assured them. “We’re here to help you, and FEMA has committed a lot of resources to this disaster.”

Will Lusk, Cache County’s emergency manager, said the meeting he attended was valuable because it allowed city and county leaders to ask the questions necessary to “learn what to do from this point.” On Friday, Lusk said the FEMA team was already setting up shop locally, becoming acquainted with Cache Valley as a whole as well as with the specific damage sites.

“This has been a great opportunity to get a concept of what will need to take place moving forward,” Lusk said.  “Now we’ll know what to do to design projects that meet the lengthy list of requirements to qualify for the money to put toward recovery and mitigation.”

While the general public won’t be directly involved in the process, Dougherty said it’s important for the community to be aware of what’s happening.

 “The main thing that people need to know is that this is a great time when you see the federal, state and local government working in a partnership,” he explained. “We’re trying to make sure that the local government gets every cent that they’re eligible for, and that’s a huge thing for them. The rest of the American people are coming to the aid of your local government because otherwise, government would be forced to raise taxes to cover all of these expenses that were not expected.  This is a process to help your government be made whole again.”

Dougherty said any municipalities in Box Elder and Cache counties that experienced damage from the February flooding event are eligible to apply for FEMA aid and should contact their county emergency manager by May 21, if they’d like to start working through the process. The municipalities and organizations who attended Thursday’s meetings included Clarkston, Lewiston, Logan, Nibley, North Logan, Cache County, the Lewiston Drainage District, Brigham City, Garland, Honeyville, Portage, Snowville, Tremonton and Box Elder County. 

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jennifer@cvradio.com

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