TWIN FALLS — Idaho officials are still waiting to find out if 11 counties, including six in the Magic Valley, will qualify for federal help to rebuild from flood damage caused by this winter’s rain and snowmelt.
In late March the Federal Emergency Management Agency rejected a request for a major disaster declaration to provide help to some southwestern Idaho counties that were hit hard by snowstorms from late December to mid-January, saying the damage was “not of such severity and magnitude as to be beyond the capabilities of the state, affected local governments, and voluntary agencies.” The state plans to appeal the decision.
On March 30 the state submitted a second, separate federal disaster declaration request, this time for help for Bingham, Cassia, Elmore, Franklin, Gooding, Jefferson, Jerome, Lincoln, Minidoka, Twin Falls and Washington counties to recover from flooding, said Jon Hanian, spokesman for Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter.
Hanian said April 4 that the state will likely hear FEMA’s decision in a week or two. In the meantime, he said, the Idaho Office of Emergency Management is gathering information for a third request for federal help to deal with flooding, landslides and avalanches in northern and north-central Idaho. It remains to be seen what the final impact will be — there was more flooding in some areas this week, including in the Wood River Valley.
In Blaine County, West Magic Road, the only paved road in and out of West Village, reopened April 6 after being closed for almost a week, as did roads northeast of Carey that had been closed due to flooding. However Spud Patch Road, near Picabo, remained closed because of flooding and a soft base.
The water has mostly receded in Gooding County for now, county Emergency Coordinator Missy Shurtz said Thursday.
“The flooding went down a whole lot just today,” she said. “Today they were going to check and look and open up all the roads.”
But there is a possibility water could start to rise again on Sunday, depending on the rain and how warm it gets, she said.
Water has also receded in Lincoln County, said Disaster Services Coordinator Payson Reese, but there, too, they are preparing for the possibility of more flooding if it warms up and rains over the weekend and the river rises again. The county just got a new delivery of sand bags in preparation.
“Right now it’s all kind of come down,” he said. “But we’re keeping it in the back of our mind.”
No roads were closed this week in the county, Reese said.
“Obviously this is an evolving event, and we are dealing with each new issue and disaster declaration and/or request as they arise,” Hanian said in an email. “We are also awaiting determinations on other counties, and as this spring flooding continues to impact our communities we are adding communities and requesting additional major disaster declarations from FEMA as those thresholds are met.”
If there is a federal declaration, the feds would cover three-quarters of the cost of eligible projects, with the state covering 15 percent and the local applicants (generally cities and highway districts) covering 10 percent. Regardless of whether federal funding becomes available, state lawmakers this year approved $50 million to fund emergency repairs to roads and bridges damaged this winter. Local governments would be expected to pay 10 percent of the cost of approved projects with the state paying the rest. The bill passed both chambers unanimously after being held up in the House for a couple of weeks because of a larger transportation funding fight, and Otter signed it Thursday. The bill contains an “emergency clause,” meaning the money will be available as soon as Otter signs.
The adjutant general of the Idaho National Guard would appoint a review panel to prioritize project applications and set the criteria. Normal maintenance or road decay due to neglect would not be eligible for the state money, and federally owned and private roads won’t be eligible either.
While there will be some money for roads regardless of whether the federal declaration granted, a federal declaration would mean some public money would be available to help property owners who suffered damage such as flooded basements and crop losses, Jerome County Emergency Manager Clint Blackwood said.
“We had considerably more than what I’d received applications from,” he said. “I have over a dozen applications of damage that had been submitted to my office.”
Meanwhile, city and county officials in the Magic Valley are waiting to see when the state money will become available and what the application and approval process will look like.
“We’ve got a list of projects that really need some attention, and we’re doing our best to fund that with our budget and reserves the best we can,” Jerome City Administrator Mike Williams said. “But it’s nowhere near the funding for improvements we’d like to see.”
The list of roads that need overlays adds up to $3.35 million and includes South Lincoln, 100 West, 16th Avenue East and South Tiger Drive.
“Patching potholes and filling cracks will no longer suffice (on these roads),” Williams said in an email. “Some of these roads were in tough shape before, but we were hoping to get at least (three to five) more years out of them. The rough winter coupled with the flooding, however, moved them all the way to the state of need for immediate attention.”
Editor's note: This story has been updated to say Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter signed the emergency road repairs bill.