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Columbia County to receive federal disaster aid

Columbia County among 13 Oregon counties that qualify for FEMA aid

PHOTO COURTESY OF DARRYN DOYLE  - A road littered with felled tree branches and power lines was one of 150 roads throughout the Columbia River PUD's service territory that lost power during storms in December. County agencies and Columbia River PUD are eligible for federal aid to help pay for damages caused by several storms in December 2015.Federal disaster aid was made available to the state of Oregon after President Barack Obama signed a declaration for disaster relief Wednesday, Feb. 17.

The disaster aid funding is being allocated in response to damages suffered during a series of severe rainstorms, mudslides and floods in December.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency announced last week that federal aid will be made available to help fund recovery and repair efforts in 13 counties across Oregon, including Columbia County.

In December, Gov. Kate Brown declared a state of emergency in 13 counties after heavy rainfall and winds caused severe flooding and landslides across the state. Following the declaration, FEMA conducted preliminary damage assessments in those counties mid-January.

Teams of FEMA and state Office of Emergency Management staff conducted public and individual assistance damage assessments from Jan. 11 to Jan. 15, including an assessment of damage in Columbia County.

A press release from OEM stated that approximately $25 million in damages was assessed in all 13 counties. Six of those counties, including Columbia County, were also assessed for individual assistance aid.

Although Columbia County did not meet the damage threshold for individual assistance, it did meet the threshold for public assistance funding. That funding helps pay for repairs to things like county roads and buildings, as well as electrical infrastructure, but not private homes or businesses, said Steve Pegram, director for the Columbia County

Office of Emergency Management.

Pegram said he couldn’t

put a dollar amount on how much funding the county will receive, but initial assess-

ments were close to $6 million in damages in Columbia County.

On Dec. 21, the Columbia River People’s Utility District experienced its biggest power outage ever after heavy winds toppled trees and took down power lines throughout the district’s territory, leaving some without power for nearly a week until Christmas day.

Repair crews responded to complaints of downed power lines on more than 150 roads in the district’s 240-square mile service area, and 80 percent of the PUD’s 18,700 customers reported

outages, a Columbia River

PUD press release stated Tuesday.

The PUD reported $550,000 in damages from the storm. The utility expects FEMA will reimburse up to 75 percent of qualifying expenses.

“We have cash reserves set aside to cover events like this, but the FEMA reimbursement will keep us from having to draw on them,” John Nguyen, the PUD’s interim general manager, stated.

Funds granted by FEMA can be used for disaster mitigation efforts, but are available on a cost-sharing basis for the entire state, a press release from FEMA stated.