BISMARCK -- Some local governments and rural electric cooperatives could receive federal aid before the end of the month in response to the intense autumn blizzard that slammed parts of southwestern North Dakota.
Gov. Jack Dalrymple, R-N.D., said he has sent a letter to President Barack Obama in request of a federal disaster declaration for the seven counties hardest hit by the storm, which dumped more than 2 feet of snow in some areas during the first week of October, according to a release Wednesday.
"The federal assistance that we expect to be approved is an important part of the storm recovery effort," Dalrymple stated in the release. "We will continue to work with our local leaders to address the widespread damage created by this storm. I also want to thank the many line crews and local officials who worked extremely hard to restore power and other public services."
The announcement came on the heels of a meeting Wednesday in Mandan attended by Dalrymple, Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., state rural electric cooperative representatives, local government officials and members of the North Dakota Stockmen's Association.
The request was made for Adams, Bowman, Grant, Hettinger, Morton, Sioux and Slope counties in southwest and south central North Dakota, which, according to the release, sustained close to $8 million in estimated damages to power utilities and public infrastructure.
North Dakota Department of Emergency Services deputy director Greg Wilz said relief funds, which would be distributed through the Federal Emergency Management Agency, could be approved by the president in the next seven to 10 days.
"The draft seems a little untimely, but the reality is that it's taken a long time for folks to be able to get to all of the damage to quantify it," said Wilz, who also serves as the state's homeland security program director. "This request goes to the president, but goes through FEMA first, so it will go first to the FEMA regional office in Denver. The president ultimately will make the sole decision on whether to grant the declaration."
If approved, much of the funding would go toward the repair of utility poles and power lines, which were downed by the hundreds and interrupted about 9,800 electricity customers, some for as long as two weeks, during the two-day blizzard that began Oct. 4. Federal assistance would cover 75 percent of eligible costs associated with storm relief, according to the release.
Wilz said private citizens who incurred property damage because of the storm would not be eligible for any potential federal funds from the declaration.
Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., hosted a forum for North Dakota and South Dakota ranchers Tuesday in Hettinger who suffered losses, some significant, to livestock herds because of the storm that brought wind gusts of 50 mph.
Much of the damage was sustained by Slope and Mor-Gran-Sou electric cooperatives. Southwest Wat-er Authority, the major water supplier for much of the southwest corner of North Dakota, also incurred damages because of the storm.
"Assistance for the electrical coops will come from the funds already appropriated in the Disaster Relief Fund," Hoeven stated. "We will work with FEMA to ensure the timely release of those funds over the weeks and months.
"Ranchers who suffered losses will be able to get assistance retroactively under the Livestock Indemnity Program, which both the House and Senate versions of the new farm bill reauthorize. We will work hard in conference committee, which meets for the first time next week, to pass a strong farm bill before the end of the year."