FEMA fails us
Last week, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) denied the state of Washington’s appeal of a FEMA decision not to provide individual assistance to victims of the summer’s fires and floods.
Gov. Jay Inslee had asked the Obama administration to reverse FEMA’s denial of a disaster declaration that would have made some victims eligible for grants to cover uninsured losses and other needs.
After looking at the thorough documentation that Inslee sent the feds to support a disaster declaration for individuals, you have to wonder — just how much personal loss is enough to qualify for federal assistance?
Many Okanogan County residents who might have benefited from disaster relief have certainly endured dramatic losses and suffered powerful emotional blows. Even with FEMA grants, most of them would not be made whole, or anywhere close to it.
Inslee’s appeal also pointed to the bleak potential for long-term impacts on the region’s economy and threats to its social structure as families move away and businesses disappear.
Objectively speaking, it all sounded pretty compelling. How is it possible to look at the personal devastation left behind by the summer’s disasters and not conclude that these people could use some help, however meager it might be compared to their overall needs?
There is a certain irony that many “government haters” — and Okanogan County is chock full of them — are now crying out that the government isn’t helping enough. Still, if there was ever a moment to restore some sense of reasonable expectations about how the government can help its citizens who are most in need, this was it. As a policy matter, it was just another executive-level decision. As a personal matter for hundreds of Okanogan County residents, it was just another outcome of disaster. As a practical matter for all of us who together are trying to recover from the summer of 2014, it’s going to make things harder. And they have been hard enough.
The BAER facts
On a related note, a report recently completed by Burned Area Emergency Response — a multi-agency team that looked at post-fire threats to homes, roads, wildlife habitat, public utilities — cites a staggering laundry list of actions that can or should be taken to prevent more damage related to the Carlton Complex Fires. The estimated cost would be about $3 million.
These are not theoretical fixes. They are mundane but basic, necessary projects such as fixing roads, reseeding burned slopes, installing berms and dikes, repairing dams and replacing fences.
It’s not glamorous stuff, but it’s the kind of response that can mitigate not only damage related to the most recent fires and floods, but also the effects of future natural disasters.
Clearing a roadblock
No one should be surprised that it came to this: The Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) has initiated condemnation proceedings against a property owner on Highway 153 whose objections to the WSDOT’s repair plans for the slide-damaged road have threatened to delay the project.
Meanwhile, one of the Methow Valley’s most important transportation corridors is still closed to through traffic, forcing a detour by way of Twisp-Carlton Road — where residents are complaining about the reckless driving of motorists who are impatient with the delay or the inability to pass slower vehicles such as big trucks or RVs pulling boats. Homeowners on either side of the road blockage at about milepost 27 are stuck with long work-arounds. The Carlton Store is starving from lack of business from through traffic.
Maybe Patrick Fitzgerald, the property owner who has denied road repair workers access to his property, has a point when he argues that his design for a replacement culvert is superior to the state’s. But many people are unhappy about Fitzgerald’s seeming intransigence. Others may consider him a hero for standing up to the bureaucrats.
No matter. The point is that the work must continue. And absent an agreement, condemnation — the least-desirable process — may be the only option that will get the repair job done as soon as possible.
— Don Nelson