No FEMA money coming to Curry?
Written by Jane Stebbins, Pilot staff writer   
December 07, 2012 10:57 pm

The two storms that thrashed their way through Curry County recently left more than $5 million in their wake — money the cities and county will likely have to absorb, said county Emergency Services Coordinator Don Kendall.

Kendall had hoped that the county and cities together would qualify for federal disaster funding.

“We didn’t have enough damage,” he said. “I don’t believe infrastructure damage is going to make it.”

The first storm brought 8 inches of rain on the southern Oregon coast, flooding homes and businesses, wiped out roads and culverts and created landslides.

 It was followed by another, less damaging storm that lasted almost a week.

Curry County is the only county on the coast that has declared a state of emergency, despite widespread damage almost everywhere. The state of emergency request, which could result in federal assistance, is in the governor’s hands.

The $5 million figure is an “initial damage assessment,” Kendall said, and doesn’t include more than $350,000 in damage reported by businesses.

FEMA, he told county commissioners at a meeting Wednesday, primarily helps with public infrastructure, including roads, electrical power, water mains, sewer and other elements in the public domain. Some roads located in the county are private roads and might not qualify for assistance.

The county has to meet two thresholds to get FEMA funding, the first being a county requirement of $71,000 in damage – far exceeded in just the first two days of the storm that started moving through the area Nov. 19.

But a state threshold of $8 million to $9 million, based on a formula that includes population and a set dollar amount, must also be met, Kendall said. If other counties had experienced widespread damage from the storms, total damage estimates could have reached that limit.

“That’s why I’m trying to find more reports,” Kendall said. “And I’ve heard nothing yet from FEMA, nothing yet from anyone. It’s wait-and-see.”

Hurricane Sandy in the Northeast has pretty much decimated FEMA’s budget, as well.

FEMA officials, in an Associated Press story Thursday, said the organization has $4.8 billion — more than enough to fund states damaged by Hurricane Sandy until spring. Legislators in those states, however, say costs could exceed $100 billion, and are asking Congress to loosen purse strings.

The perfect budgetary storm is forcing elected officials to make tough decisions.

“All the projects will end up being long-term fixes, rather than short-term fixes,” he said. “Or a community organization would have to get a loan or grant to cover it. I don’t see that happening.”

He believes the county roads department will weather the situation well.

“But it’s different for the city of Brookings,” Kendall said. “They had to spend some $2 million just to get online (infrastructure working) again. It’s going to be a long and laborious thing. It was pretty devastating to them.”

City Manager Gary Milliman said a January work session will address how to finance the storm damage and the improvements needed to mitigate future storms. City insurance will pay some of that.

“We don’t have the money in the bank to do all the work for repairs that’s needed,” Milliman said. “We’ll have to have a serious discussion about that and alternatives for funding.”

Two of those alternatives currently being discussed include extending for another 10 years a bond measure that expires next year and that could generate about $2 million, or to increase System Replacement Fees included on water and sewer bills.

Help could be available, through a variety of organizations.

The Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD) is among them. The non-profit is comprised of 50 of the country’s most reputable faith- and community-based organizations. The Oregon VOAD assisted the area during last year’s tsunami, but many of them are busy helping after Hurricane Sandy.

The Small Business Administration has a program that offers low-interest loans for homeowner and business assistance.

Without outside assistance, budgets could require major tweaking.

“They might have to juggle the books around,” Kendall said. “A dollar here, a dollar there, and deferred maintenance to fix everything. We’ll have to throw everything up on the wall and see how much of it sticks.”