PIERRE, S.D. -- Sixty-three South Dakota counties submitted disaster declarations following the record-breaking storms, tornadoes and floods that damaged homes, businesses and public infrastructure in 2019.
Under Gov. Kristi Noem’s proposed 2021 budget, released Tuesday, Dec. 3, cities, counties, townships and tribes will be able to apply for financial assistance through two new state loan programs for infrastructure repairs and mitigation projects.
The governor's proposal allocates $9.918 million of the overall $4.935 billion budget to fund disaster relief. Loans from the Emergency and Disaster Fund will provide cash flow for infrastructure repairs and local governments that demonstrate a need for state support, according to budget documents. The state will contribute 10% of the cost of disasters, but will offer loans for the remaining 90% to local governments, Noem said.
Local governments can also apply for state loans that would go toward community grant requirements.
Federal Emergency Management Agency pays 75% of the Hazard Mitigation Grant Project costs. The state provides 10% of the project cost, and local governments are responsible for the remaining 15%.
The governor’s proposed budget would enable applicants to borrow the 15% non-federal share from the Emergency and Disaster fund and pay off the loan over seven years.
Noem's emergency and disaster loan programs would greatly benefit counties ravaged by the recent natural disasters, said Spink County Emergency Management Director Larry Tebben. The county submitted paperwork to FEMA hazard mitigation funds in October.
“Now, you just wait for them to get through everything,” Tebben said, adding ”everyone is holding onto bills,” referring to projects that couldn’t wait for FEMA funding.
Buffalo Township in Spink County was one of the hardest hit by flooding, but that hasn't resulted in a quicker FEMA response, Tebben said. “(Buffalo Township) has been waiting since last May or June on FEMA and they're just finishing the paperwork,” Tebben said.
During a Nov. 5 meeting, Spink County Commissioners approved an emergency drainage plan that involved cutting across a pasture to relieve a slough swollen with floodwater.
Projects that would result in more permanent, long-term solutions will have to wait for the federal funding to come through, Tebben said.
His outlook for this winter’s potential to cause more flooding is grim. “It’s not going to be a fun winter,” Tebben said.
Yankton County Emergency Management Director Paul Scherschligt said the county is looking at $1.1 million in infrastructure repairs, though totals are still being tallied up for FEMA.
“We’ll have to come up with 15% of the funding for the damages. When it’s all said and done, I don’t know if the total is going to be lower or higher,” Scherschligt said. “Gravel became a premium because everybody needed it in Nebraska and everywhere else that was flooded. We’re still waiting to see our final dollar number, we’re working closely with FEMA to compile all our stuff.”
The pending 15% cost to the county hasn't made it any easier for commissioners to prepare next year's budget.
The county has already received emergency funds from the South Dakota Department of Transportation for a bridge project, Scherschligt said. The bridge passed inspection right before the floodwaters hit it. Now there's a crack in the structure due to flooding that needs to be repaired before the bridge can be reopened.
Scherschligt said FEMA has set up a disaster recovery center to help provide more information to individuals whose property has been damaged by flooding.
Scherschligt remains optimistic, proudly noting how the biggest help has come from county residents and neighboring communities.
“Everybody has helped everybody from the time the floods came to now. We’re lucky we have the kind of citizens and neighboring that we have,” he said.