Columbia County will receive federal funds to help with infrastructure repair costs from January snow and ice storm

PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP FILE PHOTO - Portland and the surrounding counties were hard hit by the January snow storm that dropped about 15 or more inches in some places. On Tuesday, Aug. 8, President Trump issued a disaster declaration to help the state, cities and counties recover from the nasty winter.President Trump said Tuesday that the federal government would provide disaster assistance to the state to help cities and counties recover from severe winter storms, flooding, landslides and mudslides that hit during a cold, snowy weather Jan. 7 to Jan. 10.

Because of the Aug. 8 declaration, federal funds will be available to state, tribal, local governments and some private nonprofit organizations on a cost-sharing basis for emergency work and the repair or replacement of facilities damaged by severe winter storms in Columbia, Deschutes, Hood River and Josephine counties.

Federal funds are also available for statewide hazard mitigation measures statewide.

The announcement came after a previous denial of disaster funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency in May, which was appealed by Gov. Kate Brown.

Oregon's congressional delegation praised the White House action, but said it probably would "fall far short" of the money needed by counties to recover from the snow damage.

Columbia County damage exceeded $600K

The winter snow left an estimated $670,000 worth of damage in Columbia County, including $241,000 in costs incurred by utility districts in the county to address outages, downed power lines and other repairs.

Following the major snow event, Columbia River People's Utility District estimated its share of costs from the storm was $43,000, still less than a massive wind storm that hit the PUD in late 2015.

The state's seven federal lawmakers wrote to the White House in March to support Gov. Kate Brown's request for a statewide disaster declaration, as well as more targeted help through grants for Baker, Columbia, Curry, Deschutes, Hood River, Josephine, Malheur, Multnomah, Union and Washington counties.

Under the new decision, the state will be eligible for some federal relief for the January storms. Columbia, Deschutes, Hood River and Josephine counties will be eligible for public assistance grants, and the rest of the state will be eligible for hazard mitigation grants.

Approval of grants for Malheur, Multnomah, Union and Washington counties is still pending.

"This partial disaster declaration is a good first step toward providing desperately needed relief from the costly damage caused by the massive winter event that hit our state in January," Oregon's congressional delegation said in a joint statement issued Tuesday, Aug. 8. "As lawmakers, we understand the Oregon communities affected by these prolonged and historic winter storms still need more resources and we will keep working to direct federal aid to help in their recovery."

Brown appeals rejection

State officials asked in early March for the disaster declaration to help cities and counties recover from the nasty winter that dumped nearly 15 inches of snow on the Portland area and caused floods and landslides around the region. In mid-May, the Federal Emergency Management Agency declined the request, saying the damage "was not of such severity and magnitude to be beyond the capabilities of the state and affected local governments."

Gov. Kate Brown appealed the decision in June.

Brown was "disappointed" that the disaster declaration did not cover the counties hard hit by the storms.

"While it's disappointing Oregon did not get the full level of assistance we requested, I'll continue working with our federal partners to ensure the available aid supports state and local recovery efforts in areas of most need," she said in a statement released Wednesday, Aug. 9.

FEMA funds could be available to cover about 75 percent of the costs for debris removal and emergency protective measures taken to save lives and protect property and public health. FEMA also could provide about 75 percent of the eligible costs to repair or replace damaged public facilities.

Hazard mitigation projects also could be eligible for some FEMA funds.

FEMA officials will host briefings for agencies and others on how to apply for the funds.

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