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Local counties apply to get help from FEMA

Mouse River Journal of Towner, North Dakota

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McHenry and Bottineau counties included in we Presidential Disaster Declaration

While most of the news concerning the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and North Dakota is dealing with the floods in Minot and Bismarck, local counties are also trying to secure funding to fix their roadways and infrastructure damaged by the wet spring.

Bottineau County and McHenry County were included in the Presidential Disaster Declaration that also covered other affected counties in the state. The area counties are busy documenting the damage to major bridges, roadways and other key infrastructure to qualify for federal assistance.

McHenry County Commissioner Dave Medalen said that his county is also in the same boat and is awaiting word from FEMA on how much assistance will come into that county's coffers for road reconstruction.

"We've applied with FEMA, but they've kind of told us to prioritize and get the projects where people are out of their homes and there is severe damage taken care of first," he said.

"A lot of people have been out of their homas for over a month and some of the problems started way back in March with the heavier snowfall in that Bantry/Upham area. School's going to be starting in less than a month and I am very concerned that those roads won't get fixed before that. It's just gotta' quit raining."

Medalen said that major roads and emergency vehicle routes are a top priority when construction crews can actually get to the damaged areas. He said that with so much damage to so many roads, the hauling fees will likely exceed the the actual material fees once the repairs begin because of the long distances required to get to many of the repair sites.

Some positive progress has been achieved recently as McHenry County 17 is now open after being closed for a bout three months, according to Medalen. That road runs from Bantry to Glenburn and work is ongoing on roads in the Upham area near the J. Clark Salyer Wildlife Refuge are the worst. Medalen said that he walked many of those damaged areas this past weekend and saw major damage with water still running very briskly over the roadways, large wash-out areas (some as large as 50 to 60 feet wide and more than five feet deep).

"The damage is just unbelievable," Medalen said. "Some of the places don't even look like a road, it looks like it was bombed out. We're trying to get the most important roads done first and we have to get the bridges inspected. I'm starting to get a little nervous with school starting pretty soon.

"People just have to be patient. There's a lot of paperwork and red tape to get through and you have to wait for contractors, FEMA, 1-Call when you're planning to dig, the (U.S.) Fish and Wildlife Service comes into the picture with their easements and all of that. Hopefully it's going to get done, but you just can't fight Mother Nature."

Vern Kongslie, who has been a county commissioner in McHenry for five years, agreed with Medalen that the flooding in of 2011 is the worst he has seen. He said many of the roads, especially near the Mouse River, are still topped over with quick-running water and total damage estimates won't be made until the water resides.

Kongslie said that road damage in McHenry County was estimated at $1.5 million in 2009 and it looks like the 2011 damage could be double or even triple that amount, he said.

"We just really can't even begin to estimate anything until we can get out and see what the roads look like and we can't do that until the water recedes," he said. But judging from past experiences, I would guess it would be very high.

"When we're talking several million dollars of damage, no matter what the FEMA share is, there is no doubt that costs can add up to several million dollars to come from the local budgets that are already short. Our emergency funds are getting down there and this has been a real hardship, both financial and emotional."

Kongslie said that this year's damage is the third straight year that FEMA has assisted in the funding process.

According to Rob Peck, Bottineau County road supervisor, he was out with FEMA representatives on Tuesday and will be out again alter in the week inspecting damaged roadways. Peck said the county road crew has been kept busy fixing roads that likely will be covered by FEMA funding and the regularly scheduled summer projects have been put on hold and likely will not be finished this season.

According to Bottineau County Commissioner Verdean Kveum, two bridges along the Souris River and another along Boundary Creek west of Souris are major points of concern and some of the top priorities being addressed by the county road crew and projects expected to qualify for FEMA funding.

"We hope to have everything passable as soon as we can, but it is so wet and the construction crews are so busy, they can only help when they can," Kveum said.

"We have a lot of township roads that are damaged and we're working to get them fixed, but compared to Minot and others, we have things pretty good. It's mainly just a major inconvenience."

Kveum said that Bottineau County has dipped deeply into its Emergency Fund and additional funding will need to be added during the upcoming budget cycle. He said that the county now levies 2 mills for road funds and the state has approved an increase in that number to 4 mills to allow counties to help pick up the deficit in funding to fix the roads.



Copyright 2011 Mouse River Journal, Towner, North Dakota. All Rights Reserved. This content, including derivations, may not be stored or distributed in any manner, disseminated, published, broadcast, rewritten or reproduced without express, written consent from SmallTownPapers, Inc.

Original Publication Date: August 3, 2011



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