Federal funds offer welcome relief to flooded state

Billings Gazette

by Editorial

While flooding continues across Montana, disaster-stricken communities can count on federal aid to repair what the deluge damages.

President Barack Obama on Friday answered Montana’s request by declaring the state a disaster area eligible for federal reimbursement of public costs of emergency response and repair. The presidential declaration is in response to letters sent June 1 and June 9 by Gov. Brian Schweitzer. He issued an executive order on June 6 proclaiming a statewide disaster “due to the overwhelming severity of the continual flooding across the state.”

Unfortunately, flooding and threat of more flooding continues for communities along the Musselshell, Yellowstone and Missouri rivers in central and Eastern Montana. Most of the unusually deep mountain snow pack in those drainages has yet to melt. On Monday, emergency agencies also were responding to flooding in the Missoula area.

Under the federal disaster act, Montana now can receive millions of dollars to repair roads, bridges, irrigation and other public structures damaged or destroyed by flooding. Local, state and tribal governments can be reimbursed for those costs as well as for costs of emergency medical response and disaster services to their citizens.

Aid for nonprofits

Private nonprofit agencies responding to the flooding also can be reimbursed, according to information from Sens. Jon Tester and Max Baucus.

“From the neighbor down the street in Roundup to the federal disaster agencies in Washington, we’re all in this together, and you can count on us to do our part to make sure Montana communities get the help they need,” Baucus said in a statement shortly after the president declared a federal disaster. “I urge Montana communities having trouble applying for disaster assistance to contact my office for help right away.”

The senators’ press release suggested that state, local and tribal officials contact their local emergency manager to apply for federal reimbursement. On the state level, Schweitzer has designated Ed Tinsley, disaster and emergency services coordinator in the Montana Department of Military Affairs, as coordinator for the federal disaster request.

‘Faster recovery’

“This declaration will mean a faster recovery for our communities hit hard by flooding,” said Tester, who serves on the Homeland Security Committee overseeing the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Rep. Denny Rehberg also voiced support for the presidential declaration, saying: “When disaster strikes sometimes the necessary response is too great for state and local government alone. I’ll keep working with federal agencies to make sure Montana’s interests are recognized and our needs are met.”

The declaration specifically covers 22 counties, including Yellowstone and all its neighbors, along with the Crow, Fort Belknap, Northern Cheyenne and Rocky Boy’s reservations.

Montanans look to the U.S. government to help us do what we cannot do by ourselves. The unprecedented floods of 2011 have displaced hundreds of Montanans for weeks, perilously delayed planting of crops, demolished part of a major irrigation project in Yellowstone County, washed out roads and bridges in Musselshell County and elsewhere. City, county, state and tribal governments have limited resources to clean up and rebuild. Assistance from the U.S. government will assure that local officials can move forward with recovery work as soon as possible after the floods recede.