ND delegation presses president to approve disaster declaration
Following this week's request of President Barack Obama to sign a disaster declaration for North Dakota counties hit hardest by Blizzard Atlas, the state's delegation is pressing for the measure to be approved.
Following this week’s request of President Barack Obama to sign a disaster declaration for North Dakota counties hit hardest by Blizzard Atlas, the state’s delegation is pressing for the measure to be approved.
In a release sent Friday afternoon, Sens. John Hoeven, R-N.D., and Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., along with Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., urged Obama to approve a disaster declaration request from Republican Gov. Jack Dalrymple for Adams, Bowman, Grant, Hettinger, Morton, Sioux and Slope counties in southwestern and south central North Dakota.
“What the declaration would do is provide more generous federal assistance,” Cramer said Friday in a phone interview. “It would clear the way for a lot of federal resources, whether it be grant dollars, low-interest loans or other types of technical assistance. This disaster affected everything from crops and livestock to roads, the electric grid and other areas.”
In early October, an unexpected blizzard dropped as much as 4 feet of snow in portions of southwest North Dakota and western South Dakota, causing a myriad of problems for ranchers and local government bodies.
Tens of thousands of cattle died as a direct result of the storm, according to multiple estimates.
“The severe storm brought heavy rain and blizzard conditions to the region,” said the state’s delegation in a prepared statement. “The storm severely impacted the rural electric cooperatives in the region, including damage to substations as well as distribution power lines.”
Close to $8 million in combined damages were incurred as a result of the storm, according to Dalrymple’s official request.
About 10,000 power customers in North Dakota went without service for a time because of the storm’s destruction, which downed utility poles by the hundreds.
North Dakota Department of Emergency Services deputy director Greg Wilz said Thursday that a decision from the president could come within seven to 10 days.
Though rural electric cooperatives - which sustained significant losses - would be eligible for federal disaster funds, individual property owners would not. Though passage of a new farm bill later this year could potentially provide assistance to ranchers who suffered cattle losses due to the storm.
The storm hit beginning on Oct. 4 and it took nearly three weeks for a disaster declaration to be requested, which Cramer said was partially due to the nature of the storm and how long it’s taken to assess damage.
“The government shutdown may have played a role (in the delay), but it just takes time to assess some of the damages that were done,” Cramer said. “For example, many of the roads were damaged not by the storm, but by many of the heavy trucks that were required to get the rural electric lines built back up. It’s not that uncommon to have a declaration requested a few weeks later than the actual event.”
Three weeks to the day since the beginning of the storm, Adams County emergency manager Michele Marthaller said much work remains to be done in the way of cleanup and repairing damages.
“We had a lot of tree debris, along with all the snow removal, that had to be done and other needs,” Marthaller said. “It’s going to be kind of an ongoing process for a while. It’s been very wet, which hasn’t helped. Apart from the county, there are also the farm issues that many county residents have had to deal with.”