Inslee seeking federal disaster assistance for severe winter storms

April 7, 2017

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OLYMPIA – Gov. Jay Inslee this week submitted his request to the White House for a major disaster declaration and financial assistance to help 15 counties recover from the impacts of severe winter storms that hit the state January 30 through February 22.

Inslee, in his letter to the president, said snow, ice, rain, high winds, flooding, landslides and mudslides during this time caused major damage in Adams, Benton, Columbia, Franklin, Grant, King, Lewis, Lincoln, Pend Oreille, Skamania, Spokane, Snohomish, Wahkiakum, Walla Walla, and Whatcom counties.

“These winter storms caused injuries, power outages impacting 100,000 customers, and other significant disruptions around the state,” said Inslee. “Cleaning up and repairing damages will take months to years, and our local communities will benefit greatly from federal assistance.”

The governor is asking the president to approve the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s public assistance program. It can help eligible, impacted jurisdictions in the identified counties pay for emergency response costs, debris removal and permanent repairs to damaged public infrastructure.

If the president agrees to the governor’s request, this storm would be the fifth major disaster declared in the state in less than two years.

Inslee urged President Trump to consider the cumulative impacts of disasters on the state and its 39 counties since January 2015. Severe weather, floods, high winds and wildfires cost the state more than $323 million during this time, with the federal government providing $155 million in disaster assistance and emergency aid to local, state and Indian tribal governments.

Much of the damage identified in a joint state-FEMA preliminary damage assessment in late March was to roads. A freeze-thaw cycle caused significant damage to foundations, pavement and drainage systems to more than 750 local and state roadways. In addition, storms closed all three Cascade Mountain passes – Interstate 90 Snoqualmie Pass, US 2 Steven Pass and US 12 White Pass – for multiple days, disrupting cross-state commercial trucking.

Other impacts include:

  • Destruction of systems and equipment at King County’s West Point Wastewater Treatment facility, resulting in millions of gallons of untreated or partially treated wastewater flowing into Puget Sound.
  • Flooding of downtown Connell from heavy snowmelt runoff that breached a protective levee.
  • Damage to the infrastructure of the South Columbia Basin Irrigation District causing the district to nearly miss a critical water delivery deadline.
  • Complete break of the Town of Pe Ell’s main waterline; the town drew water temporarily from the Chehalis River and ordered consumers to conserve.
  • Load restrictions placed on county roads in Adams, Benton and Franklin Counties to prevent further damage, with temporary repairs made to facilitate movement of heavy equipment, preparation of fields and spring planting of crops.

FEMA’s public assistance program, if granted by the president, would provide grants of 75 percent for the eligible cost of emergency response, debris removal and repairs to damaged infrastructure. Typically, the remaining 25 percent is split between the state and impacted jurisdictions; a decision on the state-local cost share will be made in the coming weeks.

Inslee also requested the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program. This program would provide grants to eligible jurisdictions statewide for plans and projects to prevent future disaster damage. It also has a 75 percent - 25 percent cost share.

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