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Buhl flooding

A road destroyed by floodwater is closed Feb. 9 in Buhl Idaho. After a historic snowfall, warming weathers caused an overabundance of water in the canal system. A breach near Buhl resulted in the displacement of several families.

BOISE — Local governments in 11 Idaho counties, including six in the Magic Valley, will be eligible for federal help to rebuild public infrastructure damaged by this winter’s storms and flooding.

President Donald Trump signed a disaster declaration flooding that covers Bingham, Cassia, Elmore, Franklin, Gooding, Jefferson, Jerome, Lincoln, Minidoka, Twin Falls and Washington counties.

Road damage in those counties due to this winter’s weather exceeds $30 million, according to the state’s estimates. Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter requested federal help at the end of March, shortly after the feds turned down a request for money to help Ada, Canyon, Custer, Payette and Washington counties rebuild from damage inflicted by snowstorms in December and January. The state is appealing that decision.

“We are grateful that President Trump acted quickly to support parts of Idaho struggling through one of our worst weather-related disasters in recent memory,” Otter said in a statement. “But it’s important to remember that areas of Idaho beyond these 11 counties also were impacted and now face the threat of serious flooding as a result of our heavy winter snowfall. This is great news, and there should be more to come.”

The declaration covers only public infrastructure damage, not damage to private property, so people with damage to their homes or crops won’t be eligible for a check. However, certain private nonprofit groups including utilities, educational and medical institutions and irrigation systems will be eligible. The money can be used for public assistance projects such as repairing roads, bridges, parks, public buildings and utilities; debris removal; and emergency protective measures, Idaho Office of Emergency Management spokeswoman Elizabeth Duncan said in an email. The federal government picks up three-quarters of the cost of eligible projects, with the state and local governments paying the rest.

“The destruction caused by all this water is breathtaking in its scope and magnitude,” Office of Emergency Management Deputy Chief Brad Richy said. “The assistance made available through this presidential disaster declaration will go a long way in repairing disaster damaged public infrastructure. There is still a lot of flooding going on around the state. It is critically important that all Idahoans heed the warnings for flooded areas, and be prepared for worst-case scenarios.”

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A coordinating officer from the Federal Emergency Management Agency is expected to arrive Monday to set up a joint field office, after which the state, with FEMA’s help, will brief eligible applicants — affected cities and highway districts, generally — how to apply for help.

After that, a meeting will be held to discuss the damage and the needs and develop a plan of action, and a group consisting of federal, state, local and tribal representatives will proceed to document eligible projects and their cost.

There is also about $50 million in state money that will be available to fund road and bridge repairs. None of this money has been given out yet — the review panel that will be deciding which projects are funded has yet to meet, Duncan said. Office of Emergency Management officials said in a letter last month that some of this money could be leveraged to spread a bit further any money that comes from a federal disaster declaration — the bill calls for a 90 percent state, 10 percent local split on projects funded from this money, but if a project receives federal funding, the split would be 75 percent federal, 15 percent state and 10 percent local.


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