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White House declares flood disaster in Montana

by ARREN KIMBEL-SANNIT Montana Free Press
| June 17, 2022 9:05 AM

The White House on Thursday declared a major disaster in Montana in response to severe flooding in the southern part of the state, availing state and local governments of direct federal assistance, cost sharing and other mitigation and recovery resources.

The declaration allows the government and certain nonprofit entities in the state to apply for funds to repair or replace damaged public infrastructure and mitigate future natural disaster-related losses. It also opens up aid to individuals and households.

“Over the last several days, flooding has destroyed homes, washed away roads and bridges, left Montanans without power and water services, and threatened Montanans’ livelihoods,” Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte said in a statement. “Securing this major disaster declaration will further help our communities respond to the severe flooding, recover, and rebuild. The state will continue bringing its resources to bear to support communities impacted by flooding.”

Gianforte wrote the federal government to request an expedited disaster declaration on Wednesday. The request was supported by correspondence from all three members of Montana’s federal delegation: Rep. Matt Rosendale, U.S. Sen. Jon Tester and U.S. Sen. Steve Daines.

“Severe flooding has already wreaked havoc on Montana communities and Yellowstone National Park, and we haven’t seen the last of it yet,” the delegation wrote in a joint statement. “This damage will have a significant impact on Montana’s economy, and we hope to see disaster assistance distributed swiftly and effectively, so that Montanans can begin rebuilding their homes, their businesses, and their lives.”

Heavy rainfall and snowmelt — largely from the Absarokee and Beartooth mountains — combined to ratchet up the flow of at least five of the state’s rivers to record levels, inducing dramatic floods in Carbon, Stillwater and Park Counties. The waters not only destroyed infrastructure and homes in communities like Red Lodge and Livingston but also in Yellowstone National Park, which has said it will likely be unable to reopen its northern half this season. The damage is likely to devastate economies in gateway communities on both sides of the park, where tourists have already begun canceling reservations in droves. National guardsmen have evacuated dozens in recent days.

In the request, the governor’s office noted that the initial estimate of damage to transportation infrastructure amounts to $29 million. Crews have removed more than 5,300 yards of debris from US-89 and HWY 540, with more to come as water levels recede. The letter said the floods have closed 218 miles of road — many with no alternate route — and damaged five state-owned bridges.

Lt. Gov. Kristen Juras signed a state declaration of disaster on Tuesday in the capacity of acting governor. Gianforte left the country last week on what his office has called a long-scheduled personal trip and is slated to return Thursday evening, according to a spokesperson. He will tour the town of Gardiner Friday.

Under the Stafford Act, federal declarations of disaster open pathways to three types of assistance: federal resources for individuals, such as counseling, legal assistance, grants and loans; resources to public entities and certain nonprofits to repair infrastructure; and future hazard mitigation assistance.

Federal money is awarded to entities through a sub-grant program on a cost-sharing basis. The share of federal contribution must be at least 75%.

FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell, Juras, Daines and other state officials met with stakeholders in Carbon County earlier Thursday.

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