Trump denies disaster funding for Malheur County

By Les Zaitz

The Enterprise

President Trump has decided Malheur County and nine other Oregon counties don’t need federal help to recover from the winter’s devastating storms, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

That means the city of Vale won’t be getting federal help to clear up the mountain of rubble that was once the Golden Slipper restaurant.

That means the Ontario School District won’t recover the more than $800,000 it spent last winter clearing snow off schools so they wouldn’t collapse.

And it means Nyssa is on its own for $45,000 in repair work to river pylons damaged this winter.

Federal authorities announced the decision in a letter last week to Gov. Kate Brown, who sought a federal disaster declaration.

“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.”

Peter Sessum, FEMA regional spokesman in Seattle, said the agency wasn’t sure “what the president used to make his determination.”

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.”

Rep. Greg Walden said he too would join in an appeal. He had said he pressed Oregon’s case directly with the president. Walden is a key leader in the House.

“I’m disappointed by FEMA’s denial of Oregon’s application for disaster assistance for Malheur County,” Walden said in a statement to the Malheur Enterprise. “I’m reaching out to FEMA officials to discuss the denial and am working with the state on steps forward.”

Walden had said in Ontario last week that application was moving forward. He told local officials he was optimistic it would be granted.

His staff didn’t address questions about when Walden learned of the president’s decision or whether he had been provided any information explaining it.

Oregon officials said they had been given no details on why the president turned down the state.

“We are meeting this week and will reach out to locals to see if there was any information left out,” said Paula Fasano Negelse, public information officer for the state Office of Emergency Management.

FEMA officials in Washington didn’t respond to questions about the decision, and regional officials in Seattle said they had been given no details about why Oregon’s request was rejected.

The White House also didn’t respond to written questions from the Enterprise seeking comment on the president’s decision.