By Marcy Stamper
The process for providing money to the county, cities and public utilities to cover repairs from the recent wildfire is underway, with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) meeting eligible applicants last month.
FEMA representatives met with representatives from Okanogan County, cities and towns, the Okanogan County Public Utility District (PUD), and the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation. They are working with about 30 entities eligible for funding, according to Tom Kell, an external affairs officer for FEMA.
After the initial meetings, each public entity affected by the wildfire works directly with FEMA engineers and other specialists to detail the costs of emergency response and prepare a scope of work and budget for repairs to infrastructure.
FEMA officials must approve the projects and budgets before funds are provided. All FEMA money comes in the form of reimbursements, covering 75 percent of the costs of repair, said Mark Stewart, interim external affairs manager for the Emergency Management Division of the Washington Military Department, which is handling the FEMA process for the state.
Initial estimates of the cost of repair to electric utilities, roads and water systems, including extra labor, came to $35 million. The FEMA reimbursements could be made available in phases as complex rebuilding takes place, said Stewart.
The remaining 25 percent is covered by the local entities. In all but one case over the past 30 years, the Washington Legislature has provided half of that local share, but that decision will not be made until the legislative session next year, said Stewart.
Even institutions that are not government agencies but that provide services to the general public, such as a museum or nonprofit housing authority, could be eligible for FEMA reimbursements connected with wildfire damage, said Stewart.
In addition, FEMA has stationed a voluntary agency liaison in the county to help people connect with recovery agencies and nonprofits that specialize in rebuilding and clean-up.
In addition to reimbursement for emergency response and infrastructure, President Obama awarded Okanogan County and the Colville Tribes funds for hazard mitigation to prevent future damage. The state or county will submit letters of intent about mitigation projects.
While the assistance is available only to public entities, a group of property owners could conceivably receive assistance by applying through the county or an organization such as the Okanogan Conservation District, said Stewart.
The FEMA disaster declaration covered the period from July 9 through Aug. 5, which means that the mudslides on Aug. 21 cannot be incorporated in the applications to repair damaged infrastructure, said Stewart.
Gov. Jay Inslee declared a state of emergency in connection with the flash floods and mudslides, which may help secure federal highway dollars to repair the roads. The cost of road repairs is estimated at more than $800,000.
If the county wants to seek a major disaster declaration to cover costs associated with the floods and mudslides, that would require a completely new application, said Stewart.
The public entities have 30 days to fill out an initial request for assistance, meaning that applications are due this week, said Stewart.