President signs state disaster declaration

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Funding > LA County to meet with FEMA officials soon

By The Staff

President Barack Obama has signed a disaster declaration to provide federal aid to New Mexico for mid-September flooding and storm damage.

The White House says the federal assistance will supplement state and local recovery efforts in the affected areas.
According to the White House, the declaration means federal funding is available on a cost-sharing basis with state and local governments and certain nonprofits for emergency work and repair or replacement of damaged facilities.

The counties where the funding is available are Catron, Chaves, Cibola, Colfax, Eddy, Guadalupe, Los Alamos, McKinley, Mora, Sandoval, San Miguel, Santa Fe, Sierra, Socorro, and Torrance.

The White House also says federal funding is also available on a cost-sharing basis for hazard mitigation measures statewide.

Los Alamos County Emergency Management head Phil Taylor said the disaster declaration was not a surprise.

“I have been bugging them for the past month,” Taylor said. “Finally, I talked with the cabinet secretary a couple of weeks ago and I was told this would happen in the next couple of weeks.”

Taylor said the next step in the process will be an applicant briefing. Each county will get its own briefing with FEMA officials.

Preliminary damage assessments for Los Alamos were around $5 million.

“It could be higher, it could be lower,” Taylor said. “We will get together with FEMA officials and come up with a plan.”

Taylor said the county has begun repairing some of the damage even without the formal declaration.

“We just have to go over the damage claims with them,” Taylor said.

The FEMA funding, though, will not be applied to the damage at the lab although there might be some crossover, Taylor said.

“The lab will get its money through DOE (Department of Energy),” Taylor said.

Before Tuesday’s council meeting, County Administrator Harry Burgess weighed in on the FEMA funding.

“It’s just great news to hear about the status of such potential relief. You’ll see on tonight’s agenda, we are in the position to begin repairs regardless of the outcome, but certainly whatever is provided through that emergency declaration will be very beneficial to us, given our recent financial concerns, and the fact that this was going to be taking more funds out of the bottom line. It just allows us to meet those needs and our other previously budgeted needs better.”

At the council meeting, there were two emergency repair items on the agenda, where John Arrowsmith initiated contracts under emergency statutes, which are procurements to get water lines back operable. The other one was for repairs to the Los Alamos Reservoir dam before another flood event, Burgess said.

Burgess said there the amount of funding the county will receive is still in question.

“But, having been through it before, specifically, having had the fires in the past, our staff is more than aware of the necessary recordkeeping from the get-go. From the Sept. 13 date we have been maintaining those records of expenses related to the disaster. So that’s going to be easy to fulfill FEMA’s requirements,” Burgess said. "Usually it’s a 75/25 split between federal and local expenses, so we’ll see what comes of it.”

Last week, Santa Clara Pueblo received its FEMA funding.

A disaster declaration by President Barack Obama related to the mid-September storms and flooding makes federal aid available to Santa Clara Pueblo.

“That so called ‘100-year-rainfall,’ that occurred in September had a devastating effect on us,” said Bruce Tafoya, Santa Clara governor. “We are pleased that the President has seen the need to grant more aid so we may continue with our flood cleanup and prevention efforts.”

Last month, President Obama signed a similar declaration for rain and flooding damage that occurred at the pueblo July 19-21. Like the July declaration, the relief is classified as Public Assistance Category A and B and will provide aid for debris removal and emergency protective measures.

Further federal assistance under Category C-G and Hazard Mitigation is also possible pending the receipt of the tribe’s Hazard Mitigation Plan and the results of further damage assessments.

FEMA representatives returned to the pueblo this past Monday to continue damage assessments related to the July declaration that they had started last month. The federal government shutdown had forced them to return to their “home bases.”

Based on those observations, project “work sheets” will be completed and a specific dollar amount was to be allocated.

The same process will be used for the September declaration. 

John Severanc and Arin McKenna contributed to this report.