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Governments start disaster assistance process

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Published: Wednesday, June 29th, 2011

Representatives of city, county and tribal governments and qualifying non-profit groups started the process Tuesday of applying for federal assistance in recovering from flooding.

Officials with possible eligible damage met with state Disaster and Emergency Services and Federal Emergency Management Agency representatives in Havre Tuesday to begin the process.

President Barack Obama declared June 17 a federal major disaster in Montana for flooding starting April 4, making the 31 counties and four Indian reservations included in the declaration eligible for federal disaster assistance.

The meeting was for damage to public infrastructure or damage to infrastructure for qualifying groups such as cooperatives, with no private property eligible for assistance at this time.

The county DES coordinators are now collecting claims of damage to private property, including residences and businesses, to see if the state may be eligible for individual assistance for that property.

Tim Thennis, state DES public assistance officer, told the people at the meeting that the purpose of the meeting in Havre was to start the process.

“The key is getting the (request for public assistance) filled out so FEMA can come and talk to you and have a point of contact, ” he said.

Two main offices are being set up in the state, with one in Helena and the main field office in Billings.

Thennis said once the process is further under way, FEMA officials will be heading out of Billings to the individual jurisdictions within the disaster to start working on identifying specific projects in the disaster recovery process.

Once projects are identified and authorized, the federal government will send money to the state government — the main grantee in the disaster — which will then pass it on to the local governments.

Charles Baird, FEMA public assistance officer for the Montana disaster, said the key in obtaining funding for disaster recovery projects is determining the problem and the solution.

“It’s all about scope, scope, scope, ” he said. “What I mean by scope, scope, scope is the scope of damage, the scope of the repairs and the scope of costs. ”

He said what that means is a list of those items for each project worksheet. Once FEMA and the local government comes to an agreement on those items, they are written up on a project worksheet and processed.

“The bottom line is the money goes to Tim (Thennis) and you all will get it, ” he said.

He said one major new policy could have a major impact on the process — whether insurable structures in a “flood zone A” have flood insurance. If they do not, FEMA must deduct the amount insurance would have provided, up to a maximum $500,000, from the assistance provided. That is a change from a previous rule allowing some value to be excluded.

“This is the one bad news I have today, ” he said.