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Obama signs flood declaration

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Federal aid will be available to Lake County and 14 other Montana counties affected by flooding in early March, after President Barack Obama signed a presidential disaster declaration authorizing funds on April 17. 

Lake County Road and Bridge Department Supervisor Jay Garrick said the county doesn’t know exactly when the Federal Office of Emergency Management will set up a regional office in the state, but he expects the agency’s arrival within the next two weeks. 

Federal personnel will then assess the damage to infrastructure after the office is set up and determine how much assistance might be available, Garrick said. 

The county estimates the damage to roads is in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, Garrick said. 

“We’ve definitely got some areas that need major work,” Garrick said. 

The county maintenance department has focused on normal maintenance since it made emergency repairs immediately after the floods, Garrick said. 

“We’ve been advised to not start repairs on anything FEMA will be involved with,” Garrick said. “We’re just waiting for them.” 

Damage occurred throughout the county in early March when floodwaters washed away entire sections of the county road sections. Areas northwest of Polson were hard-hit, but extensive damage occurred in various places throughout the county, Garrick said. 

Gravel roads became mud trials and chip sealed surfaces were blown apart, Garrick said. 

The county does not have the personnel, equipment, or funds to conduct repairs quickly. 

“We don’t have any extra money in our road department that would allow us to go out on the county’s dime to fix these problems,” County Commissioner Gale Decker said. 

Without federal funds, it would likely take years to repair damages, Garrick and Decker said. 

Decker was pleased with how quickly a declaration was passed by the president. Original estimates for response time indicated help might not be available for four to eight additional weeks.

Senators Jon Tester and John Walsh worked in conjunction with Representative Steve Daines to lobby the president to pass the declaration. 

“We estimate that the amount needed to address the urgent and ongoing needs of the flooded areas will far exceed the ability of our state and local governments to pay for such damages,” the three officials wrote in an April 14 letter to the president. 

Governor Steve Bullock issued a state disaster declaration to help provide assistance for flood response on March 10. County Commissioners voted March 11 to access $25,000 in reserve emergency funds. The commission did not vote to levy emergency mils to fund road repairs, although it is permitted impose up to two mils worth $150,000 if necessary. 

Decker said the county held off passing a mil increase until the county determines what federal aid might be available. 

Decker and Garrick asked that county residents remain patient as the repairs process progresses. 

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