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Flood damage misses threshold to qualify for FEMA funding

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Tuesday, Aug. 28, 2018 10:15 PM
State officials told La Plata County that the damage from the 416 Fire and flooding did not meet the threshold to seek assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, but other routes of state and federal assistance are available.

The dollar amount of damage from floods and debris flows caused by a weeklong storm system in La Plata County and across the state, about $4.3 million, fell well short of the $7.3 million the state was looking for to trigger a request for aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

While Gov. John Hickenlooper will not pursue a Major Disaster Declaration from FEMA for damage from storms from July 23 to July 30, La Plata County officials heard other options for help are open.

Various other state and federal agencies could provide recovery assistance, state officials said at a meeting Wednesday with the county.

“The governor is not going to make the request (for FEMA aid), and frankly, that’s OK,” said Mike Willis, director of Colorado Office of Emergency Management. “It allows us to go down different paths for recovery. FEMA is not the only route.”

The state can create a long-term recovery group to help local governments and communities plan for recovery. The long-term recovery groups also help seek other state and federal grants that might be available to pay for recovery work outside of FEMA.

“Using this process, we can aid in identifying which state agency has the right tool, program or grant to address a specific need you might have,” Willis said.

La Plata County Manager Joanne Spina told state officials that ideally the state could help the county fund some immediate needs to deal with the 416 Fire and flooding danger around the burn scar.

Immediate needs include more rain gauges to put in the burn area to provide more accurate alerts about flooding dangers. In addition, rain gauges that monitor temperature would help predict flooding danger during spring runoff.

Other immediate needs would include funding to keep radar in place over the burn area beyond September, again to better predict likely flooding from rainstorms. Also, aid in finding financial resources will be needed to meet local matching requirements for many federal and state grants that might be available.

Willis said state aid is a possibility.

“There’s work to do,” he said, before the state commits to providing financial assistance.

La Plata County will hold a public meeting from 5:30 to 7 p.m. Thursday with more than 100 people whose property sustained damage in flooding after the fire to provide information about one form of federal assistance available to help pay for recovery efforts, the Emergency Watershed Protection Program offered through the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

The program offers 75 percent of the funding to pay for mitigation projects identified by the NRCS to deal with debris flows causing damage from the floods. However, property owners would have to come up with 25 percent of the funding for the projects.

The meeting Thursday will provide a review of the watershed protection program, discuss public safety issues and coordinate assistance that might be available to neighborhoods in five different drainages vulnerable to flooding.

The meeting will also gauge how many property owners might be interested in participating in the program in light of the requirement that they provide 25 percent of the funding.

Commissioner Gwen Lachelt said it is necessary to search for any funding that might be available to help people meet the 25 percent local match to participate in the watershed protection program.

“It has to be a mix of sources (for financial assistance). There are going to be people who won’t be able to contribute at all,” she said.

Butch Knowlton, director of the county’s Office of Emergency Management, said damaged property included apartments provided to low-income renters.

Iain Hyde, director of the Colorado Office of Resiliency and Recovery, said an early step the county could take is to develop a written recovery strategy that prioritizes and breaks down needs for recovery into smaller, more focused needs. Such a report would aid in identifying grants and other forms of financial assistance.

Willis said, “We don’t want to eat the elephant all at once. A recovery plan forms a foundational document to develop a priority list. From that, we can find out the best approach to meet each of the priorities, and it breaks up the financial impact.”

parmijo@durangoherald.com

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