Schweitzer signs agreement to allow FEMA to help officials with Montana flood damage

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Schweitzer signs agreement to allow FEMA to help officials with Montana flood damage

By MATTHEW BROWN Associated Press | Posted: Thursday, June 23, 2011 9:00 pm

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.

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 nonprofit groups eligible for federal money to cover the cost of emergency expenses and repairs to damaged roads, water treatment plants and other public infrastructure.

FEMA representatives said about 70 staffers will work mostly with state and local officials to survey flood damage.

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 re-visiting 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.

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.

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 central Montana, flood warnings will remain in effect until Saturday for portions of the Gallatin, Jefferson and Missouri Rivers.