Tester: FEMA needs to act on disaster declaration

Havre Daily News

by Tim Leeds

Montana’s U. S. Sen. Jon Tester said he is keeping a close eye on the flooding in the state, and that the Federal Emergency Management Agency needs to step up its work on declaring the region a disaster.

Gov. Brian Schweitzer requested June 1 that President Barack Obama declare a disaster in the state due to the widespread flooding. FEMA officials last week wrapped up the initial evaluation of the damages in the state, which they will use in making the agency’s recommendation to Obama.

Tester said he had two opportunities in Senate hearings last weeek to ask FEMA Administrator William Craig Fugate how long it would take to issue a declaration. Fugate told Tester it would be a matter of days, not weeks.

“Their days, by the way, are running out and turning into weeks, ” Tester said Thursday.

While the main attention

in the state has been on severe damage to areas like Glasgow, Roundup and the Crow Indian Reservation, flooding also has caused serious damage in this area, including on Beaver Creek in Hill County and on the Rocky Boy’s and Fort Belknap Indian reservations, and in Blaine and Chouteau counties.

Tester said the reason it is taking FEMA so long probably simply is because it takes this long — the agency has volumes of information to go over before making its recommendation. Still, he thinks it has been long enough, Tester added.

Tester, Sen. Max Baucus and Rep. Denny Rehberg have been working on the flooding situation, touring sites and lobbying federal agencies to help the people who have experienced flooding.

Tester Thursday touted a service he has provided related to the flood: a page on his Senate website listing services available to flood victims, including contact information for the state Red Cross and Disaster and Emergency Services, with links to pages with information about the flooding and to state and federal agencies that can provide information and resources.

“It’s about information …, ” Tester said. “We’re not doing anything more than just letting people know where they can get help. ”

He also said additional funds already have been made available to help with the flood damage.

The Natural Resource Conservation Service announced that $1 million will be provided for Montana flooding to repair public water-related infrastructure in Montana that poses a threat to life and property, such as damaged irrigation canals, levees, culverts and bridges.

That is in addition to $600,000 the state will receive from the Emergency Watershed Program, which was announced last week after Montana-native Bruce Nelson, the administrator of the USDA Farm Service Agency, toured flooded areas with Tester.

Tester added that NRCS also was able to help fund repairs to damage to the Huntley Irrigation Project — $300,000 — without a presidential disaster declaration.