Governor signs FEMA flood deal
Dylan Brown Independent Record - Doug Mayne, FEMA coordinating officer, discusses the federal disaster aid agreement with Governor Brian Schweitzer Thursday morning in the Governor's conference room.
Gov. Brian Schweitzer on Thursday signed a formal agreement allowing the Federal Emergency Management Agency to work with state and local officials to repair flood damage.
FEMA representatives said about 70 staffers will work mostly with state and local officials to survey flood damage.
President Barack Obama last week declared a major disaster in Montana covering 31 counties and four reservations. That made state and local governments and some nonprofits groups eligible for federal money to cover the cost of emergency expenses and repairs to damaged roads, water treatment plants and other public infrastructure.
Agency spokesman Ricardo Zuniga said state and local governments are expected to submit more than 500 projects for reimbursements, including road and bridge repairs, culvert replacements and similar work.
The agency held its first briefing Thursday in Billings to guide local officials on the grant process.
Separately, teams of federal and state workers are revisiting flooded areas this week to start tallying damages suffered by individuals.
Schweitzer has yet to apply for flood assistance for homeowners and businesses. Zuniga said if the state decides it can handle those needs on its own, the agency would assist in coordinating efforts between government and nonprofit groups.
But even as FEMA geared up for months of recovery work, officials were looking ahead to more potential problems caused by rising rivers.
Forecasters said Thursday’s high temperatures in Montana will trigger minor to moderate flooding over the weekend on rivers and streams scattered across the state.
The prediction of more high water comes as many communities struggle to recover from weeks of flooding that inundated hundreds of houses and left many roads and bridges in need of repair.
But National Weather Service meteorologist Albert Richmond said the latest round of flooding will be brief. A cold front out of Canada will interrupt the rapid melting of the deep winter snowpack, and will bring more moderate temperatures into next week.
However, severe thunderstorms ahead of the arrival of the cooler weather could compound the flooding in the short term, Richmond said.
“The rivers are so high out there that if you get some thunderstorms and heavy rains, it’s just going to add to the problems,” he said.
Ed Tinsley, who runs the state’s Disaster and Emergency Services, said he was “cautiously optimistic” that the trend of relatively brief warming spells followed by a few days of cooler weather would moderate the flow of snowmelt into the rivers.
“If we keep in this cycle I anticipate that we will avoid a big event,” Tinsley said.
In central Montana, flood warnings will remain in effect until Saturday for portions of the Gallatin, Jefferson and Missouri Rivers.
Eastern Montana rivers forecast to reach or exceed flood stage included the Yellowstone at Livingston and Forsyth, the Boulder at Big Timber, the Clark’s Fork at Belfry and the Tongue River at Ashland and Birney.
In western Montana, flood watches and advisories were to continue over the next two to three days for the Flathead River in Flathead County, the Bitterroot River in Ravalli County and the Clark Fork in Granite County.
Flood warnings remained in effect in northeastern Montana along the Milk River at Tampico, Glasgow and Nashau. Waters were projected to fall below flood stage by Saturday.
Associated Press writer Matthew Brown contributed to this story from Billings.