Feds say no to help for Malheur County storm recovery

The Enterprise

Malheur County agencies won’t be getting any help from the federal government to recover from the winter storms under a decision disclosed late Friday.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency notified Gov. Kate Brown that it was turning down her request for a federal disaster declaration for Malheur County and nine other counties.

“The damage from this event was not of such severity and magnitude as to be beyond the capabilities of the state and affected local governments,” wrote Robert Fenton, acting administrator of FEMA. “We have determined that supplemental federal assistance is not necessary.”

Brown said in a statement Friday she would appeal the denial.

“I committed to the people I met in Ontario that I’d do everything to expedite recovery efforts,” Brown said. “We will resubmit Oregon’s request for federal assistance to help struggling rural communities rebuild and bring back jobs to local economies.”

Malheur County suffered a crushing series of snow storms that destroyed or damaged more than 100 buildings, closed highways and public facilities, and cost local governments for extraordinary snow removal efforts. Private businesses also spent heavily through the winter to remove snow loads from their buildings. Some couldn’t act fast enough to keep roofs from caving in.

The federal decision is a blow for local governments, who sought $1.6 million in federal help to refill treasuries depleted largely by snow removal costs. The Ontario School District alone hoped to recover more than $800,000.

Brown toured the Ontario area after the storms and directed state agencies to do what they could to help the county recover. She also set aside $1 million in state funds to help assess building damage, remove and bury tons of worthless onions, and other storm-related tasks.

Congressman Greg Walden had said he personally pressed President Trump to act on Oregon’s request for the disaster declaration.

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