By Rep. Brad Hawkins
After the devastating Carlton Complex Fire that deeply affected the communities and economy of the Methow Valley, our Legislature is taking action to respond to our natural disaster, including providing funding and changing policies as needed. As your state representative, I am working to turn over every rock to find funding for the recovery efforts and to understand the lessons learned.
The Legislature recently adopted changes to the 2013-15 supplemental budget that appropriated $1.2 million for wildfire recovery. This includes funding for various emergency watershed, debris removal, landscape seeding, and wildlife fencing projects. These state dollars will also help maximize federal funding. I have sponsored House Bill 2022 to create a Natural Disaster Recovery Account in an effort to direct more funding to the recovery effort in the upcoming 2015-17 budget and to prepare the state for future disasters.
My legislative colleagues have been very interested in learning about what happened and how we can best move forward. The Community Development, Housing and Tribal Affairs Committee I serve on hosted a work session at my request about the recovery efforts. Amy Stork, executive director of TwispWorks; Julie Muyllaert, president of the Winthrop Chamber of Commerce; Roni Holder-Deifenback, executive director of the Okanogan County Economic Alliance; and members of the Carlton Complex Long Term Recovery Group Carlene Anders and Jon Wyss all traveled to Olympia to share stories about the need for economic recovery.
We shared an emotional video of the destruction. As you may know, the video includes the song “Wildfire” sang by local artist Brittany Jean and shows how the economies of Okanogan County and the Methow Valley were affected.
Committee members were visibly emotional after watching the video and hearing from the group. These locals did a great job and made a compelling argument to the committee. We later visited the Speaker of the House to share information at the highest levels of state government about the recovery process and the need for continued state support.
Another response to the fire, aside from financial support, is implementing policies to help our state respond to these disasters more quickly and effectively. I am sponsoring House Bill 1003 that would pull together state resources and agencies to develop a model policy to help school districts restore their facilities following natural disasters. Pateros School District suffered over $2 million of damage to its only school building and school officials shared with me their struggle of not knowing where to start and who to contact to get their school renovated and ready for the school year. My proposal would provide clear information to school districts about who to contact and what funding sources are available. The bill unanimously passed the House of Representatives and is being considered in the Senate.
Though the recovery from this fire could take 10 years or more, I am committed as your state representative to helping however I can. At the legislative level, this is a team effort and my colleagues from the 12th and 7th districts have been working very hard as well to assist in the recovery, including sponsoring the funding of critical projects in the affected areas and advancing bills through the legislative process. I remain both in awe and proud of the people I represent. Your determination and selflessness during this time has been the light in the midst of this darkness, and this will be what gets you through the challenges ahead.
Rep. Brad Hawkins represents the 12th Legislative District, which includes Chelan, Douglas, and parts of Grant and Okanogan counties.