Governor takes another run at FEMA for Malheur County storm relief

By Pat Caldwell

The Enterprise

VALE – Gov. Kate Brown is asking President Trump to reconsider his denial of emergency assistance for a spate severe winters storms that hammered Oregon six months ago.

Brown asked Trump and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to consider three factors in an appeal she filed last month. The request will include money for Malheur County, though how much federal cash the county would receive remains unclear. Malheur County Emergency Services Director Rob Hunsucker said in March county infrastructure endured about $2.4 million in losses from the storms.

The governor said in her June 9 appeal that new information shows the state qualified for a federal disaster declaration.

The appeal added: information that was not available or unknown at the time of the initial request, data regarding Oregon’s weather systems, and damage assessments that better match FEMA standards.

“These factors clearly demonstrate that the rare and extreme winter weather that led to our initial disaster declaration request overwhelmed the impacted local jurisdictions and exceeded the state’s capacity to respond and recover, requiring federal assistance,” Brown wrote.

Also, some state costs from the winter onslaught were accidently left off the state’s damage assessment.

For example, Wasco and Josephine counties reported damages in the state assessment but weren’t included in the first disaster request.

Based on revised assessments, the storms inflicted more than $14 million in damage to Oregon.

Brown’s 23-page appeal goes into great detail about the amount of damage the winter storms, which started in December and increased in severity in early January.

Bend, Brown wrote, endured more than three feet of snow in January with nearly two feet falling between January 7 and January 20.

Brown also used Malheur County as an example of the severe damage.

“Malheur County had 44 inches of snow this winter. The previous record was 26 inches. During a typical year, Malheur County only receives about 12 inches. Malheur County received nearly three feet of snow fall during January, with the last storm dumping over 15 inches of snow,” Brown wrote.

Brown also pointed out that Malheur County asked for help in burying more than one million pounds of onions damaged when storage facilities collapsed from the snow.

She also said that “many essential government services were severely impacted by severe winter storms that prevented public servants, first responders, firefighters, essential medical staff, and others from being able to reach their place of work.”

Brown also pointed out that the Oregon Department of Transportation used more resources battling extreme weather within a five-week period during the snow emergency than it used in the past three years combined.

Roads, Brown wrote, also paid a price.

Damage to federal highways in Oregon are estimated at between $30 and $40 million.

“The cumulative impacts of the storm had a tremendous impact on the state and local road systems. Gravel and asphalt roads experienced significant damage from repeated freeze and thaw cycles,” Brown wrote.

Just where the appeal is now is unclear. FEMA has not responded to an email request for information from the Malheur Enterprise.

Lt. Rob Hunsucker, Malheur County emergency services director, said he doesn’t know the status of the appeal either.

Hunsucker however said the appeal is structured in a different way than the initial request.

“I think we were able to state the case in a more regional fashion,” said Hunsucker.

Hunsucker said federal assistance – in terms of dollars – will be important as many private firms and some public institutions are still recovering. A good example he said is the Ontario School District.

“The district’s emergency snow removal, none of that was covered by insurance so they are suffering a huge loss,” said Hunsucker. He estimated that at $800,000.