Friday, September 13, 2013

County seeks post-fire rehab funds

Various government agencies could offer help

Express Staff Writer

Blaine County is looking for ways to help private landowners rehabilitate property damaged by the Beaver Creek Fire. Sources of funding could include the federal Emergency Watershed Protection Program, administered by the Natural Resources Conservation Service; an interagency Flood Risk Management Program administered by the Idaho Silver Jackets; and Blaine County’s Land, Water and Wildlife Program.
    During a meeting Tuesday, the county commissioners agreed to initiate the process for participation in the Emergency Watershed Protection Program, which would require a 25 percent match from the county. According to the NRCS’s website, that could be in the form of in-kind contributions.
    The website states that the program is intended “to help people and conserve natural resources by relieving imminent hazards to life and property caused by floods, fires, windstorms and other natural occurrences.”
    Activities include providing financial and technical assistance to:

  • Remove debris from stream channels, road culverts, and bridges.
  • Reshape and protect eroded banks.
  • Correct damaged drainage facilities.
  • Establish cover on critically eroding lands.
  • Repair levees and structures.
  • Repair conservation practices.

    Commissioner Angenie McCleary said the first step would be for the county to identify areas susceptible to runoff damage from eroded hillsides. Residential areas affected by the fire and threatened by mudslides are in Greenhorn Gulch, Deer Creek Canyon and Croy Creek Canyon.
    Participating in the meeting by conference call, NRCS Area Conservationist Dave Schmidt said the process “involves kind of a complete environmental assessment.” He said his agency would bring in an engineer and a biologist, and coordinate with the Burned Area Emergency Response team, a U.S. Forest Service team assessing rehabilitation needs on public land.

“We’re treading on new ground now.”
Chuck Turner
Blaine County disaster services coordinator

    Schmidt said he would talk to the NRCS office in Washington to find out how much funding is available for the program.
    A meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, Sept. 17, between McCleary and representatives from the Idaho Silver Jackets, a multi-agency organization made up of staff from the Idaho Bureau of Homeland Security, the Idaho Department of Water Resources and five federal agencies. The organization’s mission is to “provide assistance in identifying and prioritizing actions to reduce the threat, vulnerability and consequences of flooding.”
    In an interview, McCleary said she hopes to learn about “the full scope of what’s out there in terms of resources available to the county.”
    County Disaster Services Coordinator Chuck Turner said at the meeting Tuesday that the county will have to wait until the BAER team’s work is complete for government agencies to fully determine what funding is available to help property owners.
    “We’re treading on new ground now,” he said.
    At the meeting, McCleary said the commissioners should decide soon whether Land, Water and Wildlife levy money should be made available for post-fire rehabilitation.  The two-year levy passed in 2008 raised about $3.4 million to preserve open space and to protect wildlife habitat and riparian areas, among other things. Program Coordinator Claire Swanger said in an interview that about $2.8 million remains in the fund. She said she encouraged anyone who thinks their post-fire rehabilitation work might be eligible for fund money to call her at 309-0960.

Greg Moore:

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